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Cycle

Freedom Seat - From India To Germany On A Tandem Bike With Strangers

Freedom Seat is a film about Naresh Kumar's incredible ride from India to Germany. Naresh documents his journey all on a tandem bike, risking his life to inform people about the atrocities of modern day slavery and what they can do to make a change.

Spanning 8646 kilometres (5372 miles) across 13 countries, Naresh's journey started in Chennai, India on 27th February 2019 and ended in Hamburg, Germany on 5th June 2019.

Freedom Seat Poster - Naresh Kumar

Selected into the Kendal Mountain Festival, the name Freedom Seat comes from the spare seat on Naresh's tandem bike, called 'Kindness'. Along his journey, Naresh would invite people to ride with him for part of the journey as he informed them about human trafficking and the desperate need to take action to rescue families from modern day slavery.

"The human necessities... food, clothes and shelter. That's when I realised that there is one more thing that is very important and that's freedom. If you commit a crime, what do you get as a punishment? You get thrown in jail. In jail you get food, clothes and shelter. But what's the one big thing that they take away from you is the biggest punishment? No freedom."

 

You can watch the film below and scroll down further for our catch up with Naresh.

Freedom Seat from Linus Herbig-Matten on Vimeo.

Catching up with Naresh Kumar is always a pleasure. Although the reason behind Naresh's journey is quite confronting, Naresh's selflessness and positivity is infectious and leaves you feeling incredibly inspired to make change.

Follow more of Naresh's journey on Instagram: @iamarunr or check out freedomseat.org

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

Quad Lock

Naresh, great to see you again. It's been, I think, about three years since we last caught up, how are you?

Naresh Kumar

Oh, good to be back here Tim. And yeah, three years just flew by. Doing good, was in the States for a while and back in my homeland. I'm in Chennai, India, right now.

Quad Lock

You've been pretty busy since we last caught up. We're here to talk about Freedom Seat. Your film that has just come out. It's absolutely amazing. I watched it a couple of times now. Features obviously yourself and your bike, your tandem bike Kindness.

Naresh Kumar

Yeah.

Quad Lock

A journey you took in 2019. Rode from Chennai all the way to Hamburg in Germany, 8,646 kilometres, to be precise. I hope you recorded on Strava.

Naresh Kumar

I wish, but no. Most of the things, I mean, there was no reception and also there was no battery. The cold condition was pretty rough. So yeah, not on Strava, unfortunately.

Quad Lock

That's all good. Before we get stuck into the film Naresh. I thought just for anyone, you know, we know you pretty well. But for anyone that hasn't come across you before, do want to give us a quick background? Who is Naresh, and how did we get to this point here?

Naresh Kumar

Who's Naresh? Boy who grew up in a suburb in south India. A very humble beginning. Grew up in a very poor condition. And in those kinds of conditions, education is your only escape from poverty, that's your passport. So worked pretty hard, studied hard. Ended up becoming an engineer, securing a scholarship. And then worked for a bunch of IT companies that eventually took me to the Silicon Valley in California. Just like everyone, got tired of it one day, just quit my job. Packed my bags, took care of all the family responsibilities, just hit the road to see what's out there besides just beating the keyboards on the computer.

And, yeah, been on the road for the last six years. I found the joy of ultra-endurance sports, be it running and cycling, and that helped me to find a purpose. And I was able to connect my passion for sport and my purpose, which is helping people stuck in human trafficking. So, yeah, six years just flew by ever since I hit the road and the best decision I've ever made. So, yeah, that's pretty much who Naresh is at this point.

Quad Lock

Yeah, you've covered some territory in that time. I heard about a lot of your journeys. For those who haven't, make sure you give Naresh a follow. I'll put the details in there, and you can see what he's been up to over those six years. Where we last caught up, this journey was just in his very early days. It was just a discussion at that point, I suppose. How did you go about planning this?

Naresh Kumar

So it's all about who you surround with right. You need, those crazy people all around you to put this crazy idea, and that, it's like inception of planning a dream in your head and you can't get it out. After I did my Freedom Seat in New Zealand, where I rode from Cape Reinga to Bluff on a tandem, picking up strangers along the way. And that was like a huge success. We were able to raise more than what we set out to raise for.

When I was in India giving a presentation, a 70-year-old guy just put this idea in my head saying, "A rotary conference is happening in Hamburg where 40,000 most influential people are going to be there. Would you be willing to take a journey to go from Chennai, India, all the way to Hamburg, Germany? You may be the only delegate who'll be biking to the conference while everyone is flying." And it sounded amazing, and I just couldn't get it out of my head. And also, you want to attempt something where challenge is like a big factor, that kind of keeps you going. So, yeah, that's how Freedom Seat India-Germany idea started. And when I met you in Australia, so it was still in like a very early planning stage, visas and training.

And I didn't even know if it was something possible in those days at times. But yeah, so good to be done with Freedom Seat India-Germany, and what an experience that was.

Quad Lock

Yeah. It's such an incredible concept to have people just ride with you for a part of the journey there. And it's absolutely brilliant because obviously you get to talk to them about, you know, the atrocities of human trafficking, and giving them in-depth detail into what goes on there and how they can, you know, take the next steps to eliminate this.

Naresh Kumar

I mean, that's the thing, right Tim. I mean, when you're talking about a child getting sexually abused somewhere, who doesn't want to help? But also, you learn that opening someone's wallet is easy, but opening someone's heart is pretty hard. So when I ran across New Zealand on the TRR one year, the narrative was more like, "Oh, someone is doing it, let's help." But I just wanted to bring people on the road and not everyone can go on big expeditions like this.

So, you're just offering a seat for people, regular people to go on an adventure. So, one of the tandem, everyone is curious. The curiosity drives them to me more than me talking to people. Everyone wants to know where the girlfriend is, why she's missing in the backseat, why, why, why? Why is this guy riding all by himself? So they are driven by the curiosity and they stop, and they ask questions. And when you tell them why you're doing it and all you're asking them when they say, "What can I do?"

You just tell them I don't need your money or anything. I just want your time and energy. I'm really tired. I would appreciate your help, if you can come and join me on this expedition. Pedal with me for the cause. Let's do it together so you can, you're making them combine. Not a single person declined the invite. Everyone jumps on the car. Sometimes they would give the keys to the wife, and the husband would jump on the bike. And then the wife would take some turns, and then eventually wind up in their house.

You stay there. So as you're riding, you're creating more advocates for the cause. And they are out there spreading the word, raising funds. So it was such a cool concept, because bicycling, it's so minimal, and also the joy of sharing an adventure with another human. It was an amazing experience. 

Quad Lock

That's brilliant. That's brilliant. And personally, a simple 8,646 kilometres you rode. A little bit of help with some people jumping on the tandem bike, but mostly you. How did the body feel after that journey? And were there times you just felt like giving up?

Naresh Kumar

A lot of times. I mean, vulnerability. You cannot see it. I wouldn't put on a heroic face saying I did it all the way. There were so many days when the weather was so bad, or the trucks would go so fast. This one day just before I got into Czech Republic, I wanted to throw the bike on the side of the road, take a big rock and break it and pretend like I got hit by a car so I couldn't ride anymore. I can use that as an excuse to walk away from an expedition. I got to that level.

Quad Lock

Yeah.

Naresh Kumar

Weather was just brutal. And also laterally, the bike is so long, the crosswinds would just blow you off the road. And the weather was so terrible. So there was so many days. Just want to give up and walk away. There was so many days sitting and crying like a baby on the side of the road thinking, "What am I doing here?"

Naresh Kumar

I think those are the kind of days that you really dig deep, and you end up finding things that you never thought existed. That gives you the courage to keep going. But I think the passion, and the why we were doing this was a great motivation for me to keep going.

Quad Lock

What was the longest day that you rode?

Naresh Kumar

The longest day was nearly a 20 hour day in Iran, because the next day was going to be a brutal weather day, which I knew I was not going to be able to ride much. And there was like a massive flash flood warning given. So I have to divert my route. Instead of going to Shiraz, I diverted my route to go towards Tehran. And, yeah, that was the day I just put my head down and rode for nearly like 20 hours. Clocked, I don't know, maybe about like 200 kilometres that day. So that was the longest, longest day.

Quad Lock

Yeah. You obviously had to travel pretty light. But what was the one thing that you wish that you brought with you.

Naresh Kumar

I wish I really carried a good, a jacket. Like a nice, nice puffer. Because I was super lightweight because I knew that 60 to 70, maybe 80 percent of the time I'm going to be all alone riding this massive bike. So I wanted to compromise on the weight so I could move faster. But the one compromise that I made, because I looked at the weather conditions historically for the last 10 years, and it wasn't going to get anything less than like five or six degrees Celsius.

But I think the coldest day was in Turkey when it was negative 15. And then you were just rolling up all the newspapers that you can find and you're stuffing it inside the jacket to insulate yourself. That day, I really wish I had a good puffer jacket. I would have given any one 1,000 dollars just for a jacket that day.

Quad Lock

Yeah. Well maybe a chance to throw out a sponsorship if anyone works in the puffer jacket industry. Maybe help Naresh out on his next trip. Yeah, the films had an incredible response like, you know, it was at the Kendall Mountain Festival, congratulations on that. What is next for you in terms of raising awareness about modern day slavery, and what people can do?

Naresh Kumar

Especially now, it's like a crazy time, right? Because the global pandemic has exposed millions to the risk of trafficking, especially in developing countries like India. And just made a lot of people vulnerable. A loss of livelihood due to force shutdowns has made many people desperate for survival. So this makes it perfect for perpetrators to prey on the vulnerable people, especially women and children. So people who are watching it, I would encourage them to partner with their local charity organizations.

Just Google human trafficking organizations in your neighbourhood, because right now funds are the most required item to take care of all the stuff. And the most other thing is like the consumption. Right? Just be very careful and conscious about what you are putting in your body and/or on yourself. Be it food and clothes and anything you can consume, just make sure that, you know, it's been like fair trade certified or the product that you're consuming is sustainably made, both environmental and human-wise.

So, yeah. But I would say definitely partner with local organizations or people can reach out to me through freedomseat.org and help out, or I can help them out as well.

Quad Lock

Thanks Naresh. And this might be a bit hard to say, but it was great seeing you three years ago in Australia. Any plans to visit us again?

Naresh Kumar

Yeah, I mean, as soon as borders open up. Because last year I was going to be in New Zealand and then a quick trip to Australia. At this point, just following all the pandemic rules and staying on board. I don't know, maybe, you know, a Freedom Seat Australia. But to Sydney again on the Indy Pac, but with a lot of people, that's definitely in the books. Just have to wait and see how it goes down.

Quad Lock

Awesome. Can't wait for that when it happens. It's been great talking to you, Naresh. And you look well. So many journeys like yeah, still looking as young as ever.

Naresh Kumar

Thanks Tim. I mean can't thank you all enough for all your support. Especially I was telling Rob the other day 90% of the footage on the film was all shot with an iPhone that Quad Lock generously gifted when I was visiting your headquarters. So it's really kind of you. I mean, my journey is totally possible because of kind support and help. I may say that it's a solo and unsupported journey, but I would be the biggest liar if I said that. Even this journey 8,646 kilometres, 180 strangers from 18 different countries aged 4 years old to 84 years old helped me to pedal every single kilometre of that.

So it would not be possible, not just people who pedalled with you, but people who open their doors. I was on the road for 74 days, pretty much 50 days. I stayed in total random strangers’ houses. And one big lesson that I learned on this mission was language is never a barrier for human connection Tim. Besides India, none of the country that I went through, I spoke the language. But people see that, OK, we are Homo Sapiens. He's a human. He's doing something. I'm going to help him, even if it's giving, offering an ice-cold water or giving a bed for the night or giving some shower. So the kindness of humanity, it just blows your mind away when you go on a solo expedition like that.

Quad Lock

Very, very appropriate you say that, with the name of your bike being called Kindness. 

Naresh Kumar

It was definitely a journey on Kindness, entirely fuelled by kindness and lots of peanut butter.

Quad Lock

I bet. For those who are watching, if you haven't seen the film, stop what you're doing right now and watch it. If you're on the Quad Lock Case blog, it's just above you right there. If you're watching this on YouTube, go to quadlockcase.net and you'll find the links there. It's incredible. Naresh, it's been wonderful to see you again, and I can't wait to actually see you in person. 

Naresh Kumar

So good to see you Tim. Thanks so much for your support and having me here. Thanks for promoting the film. Appreciate it.

Quad Lock

No worries. We'll catch up soon Naresh. Thank you. Bye.

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