He's on his third bike. He had 13 accidents, broke eight tubes and tires and once had to change an entire wheel. He's had everything stolen at least four times and carries bowie knives strapped to both thighs "for animals and robbers." In Jordan he fought with wild dogs; in Tanzania he met with a lion and jumped off the bike and stood there with his knives, praying, but a truck came up and scared the lion off.
He wants most of all to meet Jimmy Carter.
"That would be the biggest adventure. Just one photograph and one signature. I heard about Jimmy Carter all the way.
"All the way" is 31,000 miles, nearly half of them by bicycle. B.V. Narayana has traveled also by plane, ship, truck, bus and foot, but his main vehicle is his bike.
He has been through 38 countries since starting off from his village of Shimoga in southern India on Feb. 18, 1979. He hopes to get back home this Halloween, precisely -- "if I live" -- after circling the world.
He has been traveling east; across Asia, veering back to Africa, then South Africa. Next week he heads north to New York, then on to Canada: Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, by plane to England, then Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China, Japan, Australia and back up to Singapore, on to Thailand and at last India.
He is 19 years old, and he has learned English and Spanish on his trip. At home it is Tamil and Kanara.
He has also learned to change a tire in 10 minutes.
In this country he has been traveling with another Indian, Aswin Patel, who is 24, married and has a son and who has been cycling the other way around for the past nine months, covering 8,000 miles. He is a farmer and a distance runner, having recently finished a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] 1,000 km run accross India.
Patel's embroidered T'shirt says: "Gandhi Cemetery . . . Kennedy Cemetery" because he set out from Gandhi's grave in Delhi and has made a pilgrimage to the Kennedy grave at Washington.
B.V. Narayana does not wear a T'shirt, but a windbreaker shell and black hotpants and shin-length leather boots that clump with authority when he strides the pavement. Besides the bowie knives, he carries a belt case for his passports and official letters.
In the past 14 months he has accumulated six scrapbooks full of clippings and letters, including one from the president of Bolivia and a photo of Indira Gandhi, not to mention the 950 color snaps, all in glassine cases, of scenes around the world.
The bike is a 10-speed with a comfortable triangular seat and an electric horn. Two large silvered flashlights are strapped to the front wheel fork, and an even larger one in yellow and black plastic is taped alongside. Two panniers flank the rear wheel, and over the front wheel is a special box painted white and bearing these words on the side:
"The best cycle Atlas. I ride up to Mexico with 65 kg. It dint gave me any trable. Atlas Atlas Atlas."
The Atlas was his first bike, actually, a custom-built Indian model that had only one gear but had "62 teeth on the big pedal and 36 on the back," meaning it covered a lot of ground with one circuit of the pedals but was hard going. It served him well all the way to Mexico, giving no trouble except in the accidents involving trucks, cars, mopeds and pedestrians (he is casual about traffic lights and was observed to run at least one red light on his way to the interview).
In Mexico Narayana switched to a 10-speed to make better time,, and he rode it to Laredo. There, he developed chest pains and was told not to ride for awhile, so he made his way to Chicago mostly by bus and train. In Chicago he stayed at the YMCA, and one day he decided to fix the bike and brought it down from his room to the sidewalk to work on it in the light.
"I heard Americans were all nice people, all rich people, so I went to get some coffee. I was gone one and a half minutes, and someone took it."
He likes to be precise about numbers.
The incident made the papers, and before you knew it a good Chicagoan had bought him a brand new Schwinn complete with head guard. This is the bike he is riding now. It only has 220 miles on the odometer, but that is because he is still being careful of his heart.
His regime: 20 hours a day on the road, four hours of sleep. A vegetarian (he is a high-caste Brahmin), he eats a huge meal of vegetables with a hatful of rice four times a day. He sleeps in the bushes, he says, in his sleeping bag.
"I have to eat a lot," he says. He does. He is thin as a miler. But great legs. His eyes flash.
In real life he is a student. He wants to be a pilot.
"Do you want to hear about my adventures?" he asks.Could you say no?
"In the Sudan a small child robbed me of my things. I had no water or food, there were no people, and I had to walk the bike 20 kilometers over the stony roads. You couldn't ride on them.
"In Joran there were two wild dogs, and I fought them off, and in Tanzania I met a lion in the night about 11:30 and I stood for a fight with my knives, but a truck with lights scared him off. In Paraguay I slept with some military people in a camp, and someone took $200 and my tape recorder and radio and torches. I knew who it was, but they had big big guns.
"I walked about 60 kilometers in the desert. Then in Columbia I was robbed of my bike and the whole thing, everything. But I got it back."
He spent 22 days in a Brazil hospital with malaria and has an assortment of cuts from his 13 accidents -- the worst was when he fell in a hole in Guatamala -- but aside from that and the heart problem, he is doing all right.
He covers 250 to 300 miles a day. For the last 200 miles the derailleur apparatus on his 10-speed has been givng him trouble.Some day it will get fixed. He and Aswin Patel survive on donations from the public and groups like the Lions Club. That's what the box on his bike is for.
What he thinks about: When he is in trouble he prays to God and calls on his mother and father. When things are going well, he doesn't think much at all but looks at the scenery. He listened to his transistor radio until it was stolen.
He has been riding bikes since he was 7 years old. "I want to break a world record," he says.
There are a lot of records. According to the "Guinness Book," Tommy Godwin, a Briton, rode 75,065 miles on a bike in the 365 days of 1939, averaging 205 miles a day. Later he rounded it out to 100,000 miles in 500 days.
Ray Reece, another Briton, cycled around the world in 1971, or 13,325 in 143 days. He was 41 years old. John Hathaway of Canada rode 50,600 miles from Nov. 10, 1974 to Oct. 6, 1976.
And a German, Walter Stolle, has pedaled 402,000 miles in 20 years, greeting 159 countries. He had 5 bikes stolen and a victim in 231 other robberies, reports the thorough Guiness.
"My father was in favor of my trip," says B.V. Narayana. "He is an adventurous man himself. He went on a 4,800 kilometer walk. He is an engineer."
The father used to talk a lot about that hike. Chances are, he won't have very much to say after B.V. gets home.