Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Day two: Vellore to Bangalore

Early in the morning at 3:45, the alarms began to ring. It was time. This day was big for both of us. Firstly, we were to cover around 215kms, and secondly, there would be some tough climbs on the way. Also, this would be the first of the many 200+ km days to come. If we failed today, a re-scheduling of the trip would have been in order.  We were ready by 4:30, and were out of the lodge soon. For breakfast, we had bread that we’d bought the previous night, along with some tea.
In the dark, we rode
It was a bit cold, and yes, for the first few kilometres, the legs did feel a bit tired from yesterday. From the lesson we learnt yesterday about speed against wind, we took turns for taking the lead. We’d keep switching the lead after about every 5kms, so that we maintained a good average speed, while the other conserved energy drafting. Also, we planned to stop for half an hour after every 50km, just to make sure that we finished the 200k strong!

We had our first stop at Ambur, around 48kms from start. After about a break of half an hour, we left again. The ride till here had been wonderful. Contrary to our expectations, we hadn’t really come across climbs. All the while we’d been cruising at 32+kmph and the wind wasn’t really against us. Our first proper halt was to be at Krishnagiri. My dad’s friend resided in Krishnagiri, and we were to meet him, as was decided yesterday. So after about 120kms from start, through the city’s noisy and dusty traffic, we reached his residence. His grandmother had cooked some wonderful food for us. We devoured food, almost like pythons, and then there were gulabjamuns! Too yummy, but we made our first mistake there. 
Somewhere on the road. Setting the perspectives.
Too much food made us drowsy, and the sugary gulab-jamuns kept us thirsty. We simply couldn’t quench it!  And it sure was tempting to just sleep there. I bet that sleep would have been wonderful. But we had to go, so about at about 2 in the afternoon, we left. Grandma had packed some lemon rice and juices for our journey, so we weren’t really worried about taking another major stop.

Too good, isn't it? In the pic: Varun
As we went ahead, surprisingly, we didn’t feel sleepy and tired as we’d expected. Maybe because it was a bit downhill, or because the food was assimilating inside but we sure were on a roll. Very quickly, we covered 20kms or so and in no time, and soon, were on the flats again. Right when we were to take our 3rd stop for the day, the scenery began to glow. Hills, roads and the climate were simply beautiful. After a while, we started again. Soon, the most dreaded part of the journey arrived.
The beginning of the grind
 It was a long, steep uphill, and we could see it going right between two hills. And what even more dreadful was, that the way ahead wasn’t visible. What if it were still steeper? But we didn’t really have a choice of circumnavigating the hills so we trudged up on the bike. Starting from a combination of 3-7, going down all the way to 2-2, we moved at a snail’s pace of 12kmph. 

The dreaded climb
Biking uphill is so different from any other form of cycling. Unlike a flat road, you don’t keep going ahead if you take a break from pedalling; you just stop then and there. Every crank feels like going upstairs. You feel the push as if someone is pushing you by hitting you with a pillow. The music from the earphones falls on deaf ears. All you are listening to at that very moment is your heart beating, nothing else. Sun was high and hot, and we could feel our skin burning. That’s what happens when you forget to apply sunscreen.

But going uphill has its benefits. The downhill ride, that ensues, is an experience like no other! Here’s where I touched a speed of 59kmph, even though for just a few seconds. Riding downhill poses new kinds of challenges. On an MTB, the top speed you can attain is limited by the cycle, even though you may be strong enough to push some more. Aerodynamics plays a crucial role. You can’t really go beyond 50 if you are in an upright position, so you tuck yourself as close to the frame as possible. Even then, you touch 54. After that point, it’s all up to you. The pedals feel as if the chain has been derailed off the gears, and your cadence is well above 200. Yes, at that point you are pumping more than 200 revolutions per minute on the crank! So if you are adept at going faster than that, you go, maybe a kmph faster. You don’t really look ahead; you just see the road below you passing by. The rate at which the cat-eyes pass below you give you an idea of how fast you are going. You don’t really get to see the speedometer at this point. You breathe out hot, moist air, which because of your posture and speed, like a thin film of fluid, you can feel passing out from your mouth, along the throat, some into your t-shirt and some along the arms. After a while, once the downhill is over, you get back to the upright position, you see the speedometer showing you the max speed and smile at yourself. 59.1kmph. 

Around 180kms from Vellore, we pulled over after another gradual climb and finished the lemon rice and juice that we’d brought along, 2kgs off the backpack, and into the engine. Soon we were past Hosur, and reached the Electronics City. The velo read 200km. The feeling was epic, 200k and we were going strong. After only 17kms, we reached our guest house, but that distance took close to an hour and a half. That is the intensity of the rush hour traffic. But nevertheless, we weren’t all dead when we reached our place, and that was enough of a confidence booster for the journey ahead. But before that, we had a day off in Bangalore. And Deva would be joining us soon.

Day’s Stats: Distance covered: 217kms in about 9hrs and 30min on the saddle. Almost 14hrs on the roads.

The following day, we met Poorna, one of our college’s ex-aquatics team captain at her home for lunch. Later in the evening Varun’s friend came to meet him at our guest house and I went out to meet mine.  Soon Deva also arrived. The wolfpack was complete. After stacking up breakfast for the following day and tuning up our cycles, we crashed.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Chennai to Mumbai!

Day One: Madras to Vellore

Early in the morning at 5, Varun and I started for Vellore, the first leg of our journey. But before we hit the roads, we had a quick bite at the Krishna gate. A Pongal, mendu-vada and tea, and we were ready. But just then, Varun realized that he’d forgotten his jacket, so again we went back to his hostel. Once all the final checklists were ticked off, the journey began! 

Google maps led us out of the city and placed us on the highway to Vellore. And before long, we were on the outskirts of the city and cruising along the road. It was still dark, and a bit cold as per the Chennai standards, but when you are cycling at around 30kmph, little is the concern that cold creates.

Varun on his bike. Notice the head lamp.

Cycling, with a backpack weighing around 6kgs, the handle bag, two bottles mounted on the diamond frame, an attached pump, a saddle bag right below the seat and with a helmet over your head is an entirely  different feeling as compared to cycling freely on a city road. Brakes don’t exist when you are cycling long distance. Gear combinations below 3-5 or even 3-6 tend to rust for their lack of use. And you feel free. You scream, you laugh, you smile, you even sing when you feel the freedom you beloved cycle offers. You wave at every tide of school kids that you come across, and they wave back. Flat roads, varying gradients, the vehicles passing by all add to the pleasure. You stand up on the pedals, take your hands off the handle, and scream again, as if embracing the way, but then you realize the magnificence of the environment, and humbled, you get seated again. But well, this was the first day. What, did we know then, of saddle sores and fatigue?

Then came the patch, where we surged ahead at a pace of 36kmph! 36 might not be a figure of much bewilderment to a road-biker, but on a 26er mountain bike, it sure is a surprise. And to our surprise, we weren’t really exerting, we were just getting warmed up! By now, the sunrise had begun and there was no need of the headlights. After about 60kms, we stopped at a roadside tea stand. Tea, minute-maid, some hydration, some stretching and we were off again.
At our first stop
He he. Shades not really required, but new toys, well, will always be irresistible.

If there is a factor, that people often take for granted on such trips, is dehydration. Yes you feel fast, you feel energetic, and you are merry making on the go and you are not sweating. But what you don’t realise is that, all the sweat you are supposed to be accumulating evaporates without you realizing. And that, slowly but surely, shows later on, on the ride. 
No, we didn't stop here. What if the food was bad?
No matter how much water you drink, your lips tend to feel dry. You don’t really feel like eating anything, and cycling even at 26kmph suddenly begins to feel a task. The sun begins to feel hotter than it really is and after a point, you just start feeling tired. Discomfort begins to set in, and you feel like pulling over and calling it quits. And that almost happened. After our first stop at 60km, we had to stop again at around 80, and then at 100 and then at 120 again. 
See, the thalaivar's dehydrated!

The sun was getting hotter and hotter, living up to its name, and yes, hunger was catching up too. And this, is when, snickers came to the rescue. A bar of clean, delicious energy, and bam! Off we were, green again. Soon we reached the outskirts of the city. 

We had contacted a lodge beforehand, and a local was kind enough to guide us for 2-3kms to the place, but we found a better accommodation before we reached there, and for 250bucks, we managed a room with two beds and the permission to keep our cycles inside. 
Our humble lodge. Surprisingly clean, and supplied.
It was around 1 in the afternoon, and we were 140.5km from our beloved campus. A lunch at a “Punjabi daba”, a stroll around the place, a little stocking up for the next day, an evening dinner at a Saravana Bhavan and we were set. But somewhere on the last half a mile, Varun lost his bike computer. And so, now we were with just one velometer.

Link to Day two: Vellore to Bangalore