I have mixed feelings about luck.
In one sense, I don’t really believe in it. There is no destiny, the lines on your palm are meaningless, and reading horoscopes tells you as much about the future as does urinating on a Ouija board.
However, I often find myself in a place where I couldn’t have been unless random chance put together a series of events, involving a variety of people I didn’t know, and timed it all to perfection.
I did my engineering in Electronics and Communication, mostly because my sister had done the same a few years before and I could use her books and notes. In the last semester, I did my training on Oracle, because it was the easiest one to do. Because of the Oracle training, I cleared my interview for Patni Computer Systems, the only interview I gave in college. I joined them at Chennai, where I met my wife. I was sent from there to Mumbai, where I met LOST.
Change one variable in the equation above, and I am a completely different person.
If I hadn’t come to Mumbai, I wouldn’t have met Vishal with whom I went to Ladakh. If I hadn’t gone to Ladakh, I probably wouldn’t have started RiderZone. If I hadn’t started RiderZone, the LOST crowd probably wouldn’t have known about me. If I hadn’t become a part of LOST, I wouldn’t have gone to Bhutan with them.
I would like to think that good preparation, long-term thinking, and hard work makes it look like you are lucky. I would also like to think that if I hadn’t started RiderZone, I’d have done something else interesting, or if I hadn’t met LOST I’d have met someone else. However, there is no doubt about the fact that I couldn’t be what I am but for a series of unpredictable turns my life took, without my knowledge, outside of my control.
I am undeniably lucky to have experienced the Isle of Man TT 2017, and this is the story of how that came to pass.
I came to the UK because of my wife, she got an onsite opportunity and dragged me along.
As soon as I got here, one of the first things I did was research about the visa requirements for Isle of Man. Turns out the tiny island is part of the UK, and all I needed was my visa to get in there. I later found out that I didn’t even need to carry my passport along, I was inside the UK, and nobody even bothered to check my ID at any point doing the entire trip.
I arrived in the UK in November, there were a lot of months to go before the TT. I could see the ferry tickets selling away, and I could see the grandstands filling up, but I had no choice but to wait. IT jobs can get you to travel the world, but they can also be quite fickle. We were prepared to be sent back to India on a week’s notice.
And so the time went on by, and it was April. I went back to India for a few weeks, and then to UK again. Now it was time, and it didn’t take me long to get everything booked and ready to go. The trains were easy, Virgin was the fastest way to get there. The stay in Isle of Man was easy as well, there were no hotels available, so camping was the only option. The ferry was a bit difficult, because I didn’t know which site to book it from, but then Yubanaswa Chakraborty came along and told me about the official Steam Packet site, and that was sorted as well.
I was actually a bit surprised to still find tickets for the ferry just a few days before the TT was set to begin, but I obviously couldn’t complain.
Isle of Man TT is free to watch, all you have to pay for is the transport, once you are on the island, you find any random place next to the road they call the track, and that’s all it takes. There are a few grandstands along the 61 km route, and I bought a ticket on one at Creg Ny Baa.
I didn’t have to, but I wanted to, I wanted to give some money to these people who have created this insane spectacle for everyone. Even though I bought the ferry ticket just a few days before the event, I didn’t have to pay a crazy price like an airline would’ve charged me. I had heard the camping cost was like 10 pounds a night. These guys didn’t want my money, and that’s all the more reason why I wanted them to have it.
A trip to Decathlon and I was sorted for camping. As a self-proclaimed traveler, it is a bit embarrassing for me to admit that I had never camped before in my life. After buying the stuff, I ended up spending a good few days trying to figure out how to use everything. The tent was the hardest, I broke a pole in the process. The sleeping bag and the air mattress were easy, apart from the section where you have to put those bloody things back into their covers again. Felt like trying to put the intestines of a camel back into its belly.
I was ready, as much as I’d ever be.
8th June 2017. Today was the day.
The TT goes on for about 2 weeks, 1 week of practice and 1 week of racing. Since I had a job at that time, I couldn’t attend all of it, no matter how much I wanted to. I ended up planning only 1 night stay on the island, getting to see only the Senior TT. It later turned out that I’m luckier than I think I am, but that’s a story for later.
I do not like to travel under stress, so I usually keep a huge buffer before any mode of transport, and then a small buffer before the buffer. What this usually means is that I arrive hours before I should have arrived, but I don’t mind. Things go wrong sometimes, and when they do, I have no reason to panic.
I woke up, got ready, had some breakfast, and calmly walked about 40 minutes to the station. My backpack felt like I was carrying Tyrion Lannister inside it, but I didn’t mind. It was going to hurt me in more ways than one later on, but I couldn’t have known. I always travel as light as possible, and I was carrying the bare minimum I needed to. In fact, I should’ve carried along more winter stuff, much more, but that’s easy to say now, and easier to laugh about.
The train arrived, I sat on my reserved seat, and on we went.
“Attention passengers, a train has broken down in the middle of the track, we would have to divert from a different route, which would add about 1 hour to our journey. Apologies for any inconvenience.”
Ah, trouble, exactly what I was prepared for. It feels kinda sad that I prepare for everything to go wrong, and it only happens 1 out of 10 times, but when it does, I enjoy the feeling of being right.
Let’s get some coffee, do some people-watching, and enjoy the new route.
My route was Milton Keynes – Stoke-on-Trent – Crewe – Liverpool, because this was the cheapest ticket I could get. The ticket mentioned that I was only allowed on specific trains that left at a specific time, so I was not certain what the 1 hour delay was going to do, but it didn’t matter, I had time for everything.
People watching can be a bit difficult, people don’t like to be stared at, except for kids. The only solution I’ve found to this problem is glass. Find any glass surface around you, mostly it happens to be the window, and if you are in the right position, you’ll end up looking at people without them looking at you. Brits take real good care of themselves, most of them look like they’ve just walked off the ramp at some up-market fashion show. I feel inadequate, under-dressed, shy, and that’s even more reason to spy on them indirectly through reflections.
I had never been on this route before, so when Stoke-on-Trent arrived, I was a bit surprised to find a tiny little 2 platform station. I had imagined it to be some massive interchange, but here I was, standing with 10 other people in the entire station.
The train I was supposed to catch had already left an hour before. I found one of the station employees and asked what to do now.
“You got a ticket to Liverpool don’t you?”
“Take whatever train you find next, nobody’s gonna stop ya.”
That was easy.
The next train that I could see in the direction I wanted to go was to Crewe. I waited, and then something interesting happened.
I saw what appeared to be a toy train approaching my platform. It was just 1 coach, the train driver was at the front, and the passengers sat at the back. It actually looked like a bus had been hijacked off the road and fitted with some steel wheels to make it run on the tracks. The train traveled slowly, I could hear the diesel engine breathing from a distance, it almost sounded like a steam one. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it let out a whistle like the old trains used to, and a bunch of clowns stepped off the door, children running behind them, the sound of laughter filling the air. But that didn’t happen.
This was my train.
The door opened, and a lady stepped out. She looked at me and nodded. I went to her and showed my ticket, she nodded that I could go in.
The inside could only be described as what a very clean BEST bus would look like. The windows were of that old style that can be pushed up or down with 2 latches. Once I was in, the lady closed the door, and rang a bell to tell the driver to get going. The thing chugged, and off we went.
We stopped at a station on the way that was literally just 1 platform, nothing more. 1 person got in, nobody got out. We went through shades of trees on both sides, almost completely covering the track. Lazy farm land in both directions, greenery and sheep. The “train” must’ve been doing 100 kmph, or that’s what it felt like with all the shaking.
There was a lady with 2 kids sitting opposite to me. I’ve noticed that English parents are quite strict with their kids, not physically strict but verbally. They also seem to have a lot more control over their children than Indian parents appear to. The younger of the 2 kids kept pulling his socks off and throwing them as far as he could, and the mom would politely put them back on and tell him that’s not a very nice thing to do. The elder boy wanted to explore the train, and the mother gave him strict instructions to say “Excuse me” if he found someone in his way, and “Sorry” if he even as much as touched someone.
I wonder where the dad was. I wonder that a lot over here.
The journey ended, and I was in Crewe. I got out of the “train” and looked back again, just to confirm I had really traveled in something that wouldn’t be out of place in a museum.
Crewe was the major interchange that I had expected Stoke-on-Trent to be. A lot of platforms, a lot of bridges, and a lot of people. I found the platform where my train was supposed to come, I had missed the Virgin one, so I decided to try the London Midland. Why not? Spent some time inside the coffee shop, and then it was time to get going again.
London Midland trains are usually slower than Virgin ones, they have more stops, and they aren’t as sexy. I found a bunch of students inside, skateboards everywhere, bags with more stickers than bag. The windows are bigger, so that’s a plus, you get better view of the outside and a better reflection of the inside.
I looked at these kids around me, all incredibly smart looking, fashionable, and wondered how on earth they could suffer from any sort of inferiority complex. You read about it a lot these days, kids having a bad self-image, feeling they aren’t beautiful enough, and it seems to happen more frequently in developed countries like the UK than in India. I remember what I used to look like back in college, a pulsating mass of ill-fitting clothes and unshaven beards, beard that even till now doesn’t grow like a real man’s. I used to think I was the sexiest man on campus, I had the self image of Mr. Neo Anderson. I guess it’s all relative. It must be tough to be a kid here.
Liverpool Lime Street station was here, and it looked like someone had chiseled through a huge rock to get this place setup. I did not know it at that time, but I was going to get to know this station much more intimately.