The OutdoorPersons (OP) series is my attempt at writing about, and perhaps understanding the everyday person who has stumbled upon the joys of outdoors and undertakes those activities where ‘what you might lose seems out of all proportion to what you gain’. These people are not necessarily famous or have remarkable achievements that get talked about. But they do light up the sky once in a while like meteors that streak across a purple sky, quite often unseen and unadmired. Each outdoorperson has his/her own ‘deep play’. The OP series is homage to that individuality and an attempt to have colourful characters blaze across our skies.

Dadhi is AT it again!

One has a lot of mental images about one’s childhood friends, especially about how they look. But I was unprepared for the visage presented to me by a recent photo of such a friend. The photo is in his blog-post titled ‘Dadhi – My Trail Name’, and it was its context more than my fanciful imagination that made me think of the dwarves from the LOTR series. Dadhi – not his real name – is going on an adventure that could have been labeled as ‘madcap’, given the circumstances. And with anyone else what he plans to do would also have been audacious. With Dadhi, it is just plain natural. For, sure enough, after the first astonishment at reading about his plans, I remember thinking but of course he would think of something like this so what’s so surprising? Well, his beard was certainly surprising! I had never seen such a luxuriant growth on him before!

Dadhi and I come from a middle class background, growing up in a large housing colony. Though he is older than me there were a few common platforms where we interacted as teenagers. One of those was hiking – something that happened easily because we lived close to a mountain range rich with archaeological relics (I have written about that elsewhere on this blog).

I am delighted to write about Nitin Anturkar, alias Dadhi, as the first ‘OP’ in this series. He is the guy who was the first from our bunch to go to stay in a hostel. And his was the first slide-show ever in my life, which happened to be on the Himalayan ventures that he had undertaken along with his college friends through their mountaineering club. I was in junior college then, hiking virtually on every weekend in the Indian Western Ghats with a couple of groups I was a part of. And I used to dream of going to the Himalaya like every hiker in India (the world?!) does. And there was Nitin, coming home one vacation with a slide projector and all of us gathered in the dark in our colony’s playground and a mesmerised me sitting under the stars as Nitin narrated his experiences while those wonderful, wonderful Himalayan ’scapes projected on a white bed sheet that served as our makeshift screen held the audience spellbound…

The name

Nitin studied chemical engineering in IIT Bombay (Indian Institute of Technology, the only entity perhaps for which I want to reverse-use the acronym-parenthesis because it is so well known throughout the world as ‘IIT’) and that is where he got the moniker of Dadhi because… wait, let me quote the man himself from his own blog: “My trail name is Dadhi (In North Indian languages, it means beard). When I was in a college in India, approximately 50,000 years ago, I never trimmed or shaved my beard for the entire five years. All my buddies started calling me Dadhi. The name stuck.” After IIT Nitin went to the U.S.A. where he got a PhD. He went on to build a career in the automobile industry from which he retired in 2020 at the age of sixty. Through it all, he had continued to hike in the mountains. For instance, a few years back he undertook the glacially cold ‘Chaddar Trek’ on the frozen river Zanskar in Ladakh in the Himalaya.

Dadhi’s adventure

That is him sitting on the iconic rock of the Appalachian Trail (AT) where he had gone to ‘try things out’. Nitin plans to walk the AT in one go, starting from April 2021. Most prefer to do the AT in bits and pieces, and for quite a few it becomes a lifetime goal as they struggle to find time from their professional and personal responsibilities. Nitin is retired, can’t sit still and can’t, or shan’t, think small. At least that is the way I picture him to be. But that’s still not a big deal. About 3000 people attempt to walk the AT in one go – something that is termed as a ‘Through Hike’. Success rate is about 20%. What makes Nitin’s case significant is the fact that he suffered a heart attack in December 2018. He writes about the cardiac episode in his blog post titled ‘My Heart Attack (and how do I prepare for the Appalachian Trail?)’. In that he writes, “Long time ago in the Himalayas, mighty mountains and roaring rivers had already adopted me as their child. These parents wanted to pamper their “newborn” child in person again. The idea of my long journey to meet them right here in America started taking shape. I decided to traverse the entire Appalachian Trail (AT).” For his wife, Anjali, “It was a very hard decision… to agree for my journey. But she loved my dream. She felt that I am destined to pursue this wild dream. She embraced it and the preparation began in earnest.”

While speaking with Nitin during a few online calls, I got a glimpse of the gargantuan effort that he put in into the preparation. AT is 3,529 km. long (‘only 5-6 countries are longer than the AT!’). There are other details like cumulative elevation gain through all the ups and downs and how cicadas are expected to swarm over a stretch of the AT where they apparently can cover everything to a depth of a few inches! You can read his blog to know all those fascinating facts. Nitin expects to take 8 to 9 months to complete the AT since he will have to walk slow keeping a tab on his heart rate and general feeling of wellbeing. In addition to Nitin’s own meticulous planning, there are many factors that support Nitin, like his family of wife and two children, and a phalanx of friends who have rallied around to do everything that is needed to launch and support this kind of a venture. One thing stands out, though: Nitin’s inexhaustible capacity for humour. Here is an example. Admitted in a cardiac hospital, a hospital staff member had struggled to shave off the abundant growth on Nitin’s chest. Nitin cracked a joke that got people laughing, and one of them said it didn’t look like Nitin was going through a heart problem. To which Nitin replied that he is just happy that he has a heart. An impromptu, spur of the moment response. And yet when he turns inwards to search for the enigmatic ‘why’ of his AT, this is what he presents:

There have been teething troubles galore before the trek. Uncertainty looms large on so many aspects primarily because of one current factor: COVID-19. And all of us around Nitin alias Dadhi keep our fingers crossed and wish him a successful start. That is the first challenge. He is prepared for the rest. As he walks the trails, I can picture all bears, deer, rattlers, ticks, mosquitos and yes, the cicadas, all pausing in midstride and mid-crawl to whisper in awe, ‘Dadhi is AT it again!’.

Dadhi’s website: www.dadhionthetrail.com

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