Eight years ago, Sarah Appelt, now 28, decided to travel to India during a gap year after finishing high school in Germany. While exploring the length of the country, she felt an instant connect with the Himalayas, and decided to stay back.

At the start, she bought a bike and it was meant for running errands up and down the slopes, but she soon met friends who would set out each weekend on long day rides. The fun clubbed with a drive towards fitness gave her riding a whole new meaning. When someone from the community invited her to ride the Trails ’n’ Dust Mountain Bike Challenge in 2011, Appelt was hesitant, given that she had little idea about what mountain biking entailed, and the fact that she was the only woman riding the race. But that first ride was good enough for her to get hooked to the world of racing, and today, Appelt is a regular feature on the mountain biking circuit in India with a number of wins under her belt. At the Hero MTB Himalaya this month, she finished third.

“It gives me a good reason to stay in shape and train, though it’s more than just racing. I met some of my best friends during races and it’s a good excuse to catch up with them," Appelt says, cooling her heels during the Hero MTB Himalaya, an eight-stage race that runs over 650km from Shimla to Dharamsala.

“Besides, sharing space with professional riders teaches you so much about riding, nutrition, bikes and equipment," she adds.

Appelt does worry though that not many women take up the sport.

Balancing act

Having studied tourism in India, Appelt set up Chalo! Reisen, which translates to “Let’s go! Travel" in 2014, where leading mountain biking trips around Himachal Pradesh became a natural extension of her passion to ride, alongside organizing treks, mountain climbs, yoga and culture trips, especially for clients from Germany.

“It’s very different to ride in these mountains, since you don’t meet hundreds of people on the trails like you do in Europe. There are times when we are the only ones there, that’s the beauty of it," she says.

The year-round travel season in India means Appelt has to carefully plan her racing schedule around work commitments. While in Manali she usually trains alone, but often makes her way to Shimla to ride with other members of the Hero Action Team, in order to master the finer nuances of mountain biking.

“I try to include as much off-roading as possible, since it’s my weakness. The Shimla boys are faster than me, but are very accommodating and don’t mind waiting. At times, I feel like I’m limiting them, but I feel much safer," she says.

Learning curve

There’s a thin boundary then at times between racing and working. Riding the course at races such as Hero MTB Himalaya and MTB Arunachal has given Appelt the chance to explore remote regions in a safe environment, while picking up vital tips on everything from route planning, logistics and accommodation for her own tours. In fact, she often meets some of the clients at these events, who ask her to organize treks and tours to cool off after a few hard days of racing. “These are the only holidays I take. Then again, my work is such that I can attend to it as long as I have my phone and computer," she says.

Risk management

The nature of the sport makes it a dangerous endeavour at times, especially on the fast or technical downhill sections, and Appelt tries to minimize the risk as far as possible. But it’s also taught her to deal with the challenges that come up at the office.

“Work can get hard at times, though nothing quite compared to what it takes to tackle a race. It’s handed me the patience to deal with anything, no matter how hard, painful or undoable it may seem. On the other hand, organizing my work has taught me how to plan for a race so that I am rested and focused before hitting the trails," she says.

That said, nothing quite prepares her for the wonders of nature, whether while racing or at work.

“Racing is very emotional business, though riding in the mountains can be really funny at times—when you are stuck in the middle of a flock of sheep or if a bull decides that you cannot pass. Then, there are local women, who would like you to forget the race and just sit and have an apple with them," she says, chuckling.

Exploring the unknown and revelling in the wonders of nature has been at the heart of what Appelt has chased since moving to India.

“And racing is just like that, since it pushes your mental and physical limits and forces you to step outside your comfort zone," she says.

Adrenaline Rush is a series that looks at how professionals use lessons from adventure sports to make their work life more effective.

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