Fasten your seatbelts for an action packed read! In 2018 and aged 20, Vedangi Kulkarni became the youngest woman to have circumnavigated the globe by bicycle. She grew up travelling far and wide and, at 17, cycled through the Indian Himalayas. Now based in Dorset and with many more adventures to her name, Vedangi shares her amazing story so far.
Hey Vedangi, tell everybody where are you based and what you do!
Hello, hello! I am Vedangi, a 22-year-old adventure traveller, endurance athlete, expedition and project manager, writer, public speaker, model, digital marketer, and the thing that holds all of those together, a business owner. I’m based in Christchurch in Dorset.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
For as long as I remember, really. I grew up travelling far and wide with my parents. They’re proper badass. They never held me against the cultural standards and always supported me in exploring my craziest ideas. One of those ideas, when I was living in Pune, India, was hand-stitching cushions and selling them to the neighbours and another one was selling Diwali-special soaps and getting some commission out of it. I remember telling people that the ‘Pearl’ soaps had an actual pearl in them! Of course, I was 10 or 12 at the time so I’m sure nobody bought into that one.
For me, it started with performing yoga competitively in India, followed by playing football professionally, followed by mountaineering, followed by a bike ride across the Indian Himalayas in 2016 and that was the beginning of what now can be described as a life centred around adventure!
What has been your favourite trip or adventure?
Five days after my 18th birthday in 2016 I moved to the UK to study in Bournemouth. The subsequent 400km bike ride that turned into a 1,600km bike ride across the country is by far my favourite adventure – mostly because it really was an ‘adventure’ for me at the time. I didn’t understand British culture or British people. I didn’t understand the accent nor the fact that when Brits say ‘You alright?’, they don’t actually expect an answer!
I didn’t understand the traffic rules very well and I had no sleeping gear nor enough warm clothes for late winter-early spring. I was knocking on random people’s doors who welcomed me into their homes with open arms. I slept under bus shelters or outside church yards or petrol stations when I couldn’t find a decent place elsewhere. I had very little money. I was just an 18 year old who had just moved to a new country wanting to learn more about it and understand the culture.
How do you find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
With difficulty! I’m still learning to find the personal-professional boundary in my life. As far as family is concerned, my parents are based in Oman. Currently, though, mum’s in India and it’s hard to get all three of us on the same call together. I’ve found this Topeak phone mount for my bike so that I can answer calls from family or my partner if I’m out riding (of course, safely, with only one earbud in). When I’m home, I do try and always have dinner with my partner.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
My dad. He used to tell me stories from his college/university years of travelling and adventuring in different parts of India with his friends. He worked abroad ever since I was five years old and used to come back every other month telling me stories from wherever he was. I grew up wanting to be as well travelled as he was.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Most definitely. I feel most myself three days into a multi-day hike or bike trip, when I’ve been out there for long enough to experience the full range of what the outdoors has to offer.
What is it about endurance cycling specifically that you love?
Being on the move. On long distance bike adventures, I know that I’ll wake up the next morning with my muscles aching but I also know that, once I’m back on the move, I’ll be okay and will be able to keep moving forwards. It makes me feel strong within my body and I LOVE that!
When did you discover FINDRA?
I discovered FINDRA at The Kendal Mountain Festival 2017 at a Women In Adventure session. I enjoyed every single talk that was delivered in that session and I later talked to Alex (FINDRA founder and designer) and told her that I was about to plan a bike ride around the world. I bought a merino base layer back then that I still use to this day!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
One of the first things I learnt from mountain biking, when my partner was teaching me how to tackle steep corners, was to look ahead at the exit of the corner and not at what’s right ahead of you on the bike. As with mountain biking, it is a great advice for life – to keep looking ahead, moving forward and not focusing on the problem that’s right in front of you, but moving towards the solution with every step. Wow, that was deep!
What do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more?
That ‘The only way out is through’. Abdullah Zeinab (an endurance cyclist from Australia who filmed the first few days of my round the world bike ride) wrote this advice on my bike. I’ll never forget that: ‘The only way out is through.’
Thanks Vedangi, and very nice to meet you!
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Start With Why is a global bestseller and the TED Talk based on it is the third most watched of all time. Why are some people and organisations more inventive, pioneering and successful than others? And why are they able to repeat their success again and again? In business, it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters Why you do it.
Start With Why analyses leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and Steve Jobs and discovers that they all think in the same way – they all started with why. Simon Sinek explains the framework needed for businesses to move past knowing what they do to how they do it, and then to ask the more important question – Why?
Ladakh region in the Indian Himalayas
Riding my bike in Ladakh region (Indian Himalayas) across remote valleys and over high mountain passes, aged 17. It was truly exciting and I felt the most confident when pushing myself through tough situations or getting better at pushing my previous limits. The harder it got, the better I feel, and the better I felt, the more I wanted to push myself further into any challenge.
Somebody to Love by Queen
Somebody to Love by Queen is hands down my favourite song. I once had an opportunity to interview Sir Brian May from Queen and hearing his story and the band’s story in his own words made me love Queen even more than I already did (if that was even possible!).
Take it away, Freddie!