When Preeti Maske took up cycling at the age of 45, she had no idea a new hobby would turn into a passion, and then a profession. Becoming the first solo cyclist to bike from Leh to Manali in 55 hours, she talks all things sport in adulthood, setting world records, and her latest adventure: An unassisted ride from Bhutan to India via Nepal.
Driven by an indefatigable desire to accomplish what most people would consider impossible, Preeti Maske, a 46-year-old cyclist from Pune, India, who happens to be a mother of two, has achieved five Guinness World Records in just 10 months.
Her latest record-breaking journey saw her cycle from Bhutan through Nepal and into India covering 1,803 kilometers (1,120 miles) in 10 days, 18 hours, and 40 minutes—completely unsupported. “I have been to Nepal before,” says Maske, “but cycling through the country was special. I rode through towering mountains with valleys on both sides. I have made a note of many small villages that I would like to go back and visit.”
It wasn’t wanderlust that fueled Maske’s adventurous side, but a surprise first-place victory in a five-kilometer fun run at her children’s school.
It was a cycling expedition from Kashmir in the north to Kanyakumari in the south—down the length of the country—that made Maske take up cycling seriously. Although Preeti kept improving her timing and was putting in the training that was required, being one of the few women in the group came with its own challenges.
“Keeping up with male riders was tough,” she says. “I would be slower but when I caught up with them, although they had been resting for a while, whenever they said, ‘let’s go’, I would say, ‘let’s go’. I saw many women who were slower, took longer breaks, and how male riders would be reluctant to have them join their group the next time.” Among her cycling peers, Maske is known never to complain about anything, even pushing herself after a fall or an accident.
A passionate ultra cyclist—Dr. Mahajan holds the Guinness World Record of being the fastest male to cycle from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 10 days, 9 hours and 59 minutes, and is the fastest on foot from Manali to Leh (highway) in 4 days, 21 hours and 13 minutes—he encouraged Preeti to attempt setting a Guinness Record. His push was instrumental in Preeti taking her cycling to the next level. “He’s filled with a lot of positive energy and has been a continuous support on my cycling journey,” says Maske.
She decided on cycling a 6,000-kilometer route (3,730 miles) spanning north, east, south, and west India, known as the Golden Quadrilateral. However, the pandemic delayed her plans and posed several challenges. The expedition involved passing through 16 states across India, and due to the pandemic, there were several restrictions in place on inter-state movements.
On the morning of her flag-off, her driver and cycle technician didn’t show up, worried about being held up at a state border and being stuck there for days on end. Dr Mahajan suggested she use her own car and her then-20-year-old daughter as her support crew. Even her husband joined them for the initial four days until another driver replaced him.
People of all ages, including many women and children, write to her sharing stories of how she’s their inspiration. One of her friends who didn’t know how to ride a bicycle rented one, learned how to ride, and completed a 100-kilometer ride and dedicated it to her.
Beyond inspiring people to push their boundaries, Maske leverages her growing popularity to spread the message of organ donation by creating awareness and dispelling widespread misconceptions about it.
What’s next? After completing the Ironman challenge, Maske has her eyes set on cycling from India to Singapore via Myanmar. “Every time I finish something, automatically I think of ‘What next’,” she says. Picking up on this relentless desire to achieve what most think is impossible, her daughter gave her the moniker the ‘the extreme lady’. Looking at Maske’s plans, it’s clear she’s hell-bent on proving her right.