Thursday, October 11, 2012

Waynad Escapade

A secret(unknown to my parents i.e) 10+km ride to a friend's house in 7th standard of my school days was longest I had ever ridden on a bicycle. And when my office relocated, I gave up cycling to work. I found 4.5km pedaling through the dreary old Madras road unappealing and beyond my body fitness compared to the 2km pleasant ride I was used to for about 6 months. It was in Tadiandamol that I first heard of CAM through a fellow trekker. I was amazed that such a club existed. A desire to be part of it seeped in me. About 8 months later, another BMC trek (Horagina Betta), I was reminded again. The divine intervention finally came when a fellow trekker asked if I was interested in 130+km drive around Waynad arranged by CAM.

The main pick-up point was near the Hockey stadium in Shantinagar. By 10pm, Nov 25 2011, we had all gathered and chatted waiting for the bus and two canters (support vehicles to carry bicycle when we aren't cycling). I had opted for rented bike as I didn't have one of my own. There was a light, steady drizzle, a precursor to the two days ahead. As the discussions progressed, I realized that here were people crazy about cycling not different from many of crazy trekkers I had met. I was excited and hoped that I would like cycling as much as trekking. I wasn't disappointed.

At Bandipur - starting our ride

Early morning around 4:30AM, we stopped on the way to Bandipur at Gundlupet to freshen up. After breakfast around 7:30AM, we started our ride - armed with maps for the day and energy rations. The guides had briefed on how to use the geared bikes along with list of Do's and Don'ts. One of the canter led the party and the other brought up the rear. Riding after so long, I struggled to keep the cycle in balance initially. Gradually got used to the geared bike and then I could enjoy the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary. I got to see some peacocks, spotted deers and elephants. Nice road and weather added to the charm.
'Spotted' Deer and Peacock

Very soon, the exhaustion started as I wasn't used to long rides. A few breaks and already I was the last rider with only the coordinator behind. It didn't help that my muscle strength ain't so good to ride fast, let alone the unfamiliarity of long rides in geared bikes. Unlike in trekking, I had to focus more on cycling and road leading to limited view of surrounding. But perhaps being alone reduced distractions and I was able to keep peddling for longer stretches, most times mentally overriding the urge to stop and rest. Steady and continuous progress helps in body adjusting to the strains better than frequent stops. Having tea at one of the breaks was like revitalizing the body with magical powers.

On the way to lunch point

We had to cover about 45km in the morning session. Being close to 3000 feet above sea level, the weather was cool with short spells of slight drizzling. We passed through beautiful mountain curves, sometimes satisfyingly on a downhill across scores and scores of tea plantations. Gudalur was definitely a picturesque town. The village folks and town people alike were mostly curious whenever a procession of us crossed them. Some kids spotting us from a distance would group together, waiting for us to come nearby ready with questions to ask. Most of the times it was - "Where are you coming from?" or "Where are you going?". Sometimes, a family would stand outside their home with kids waving their hands looking at us pass by - reminding me of similar routine when we are traveling by train close to households. Occasionally, we would wave back, much to the delight of such families or school students on the road. The best I liked was their tendency to point our way forward at a turn - avoiding inconvenience of having to refer the map or stopping to ask for directions.

As I approached the last 10-15km stretch before the lunch point, pedaling became increasingly difficult. Forget the uphills, where some of us resorted to push the cycle, even the flat ones were difficult. Not being familiar with changing of gears appropriately also hampered the progress. But there were certain stretches, where little extra pushes now and then to keep going culminated towards decent downhills and helped in not falling behind too far. Like in cricket, momentum is very important. Finally about 3-5km from the lunch spot, me and few others gave up near an uphill and got into the canter. We were so exhausted that even pushing the cycle was not an option. And back-ache compounded my case.

By the time I reached lunch point in canter, the experts had finished their lunch and leaving for next part. At that point I wondered if I would ever want to do a cycling trip again. However, lunch, moov spray and resting lifted my mood. I was even more determined to not hop onto the canter for atleast the rest of the ride that day. I started cycling again, with few still behind which gave me that much more leeway of time to complete. The back ache was soon forgotten and I concentrated in cycling as fast as I could. After about 15-20km, I felt pretty happy with myself as I wasn't at the end of line and feeling good for more. However, as I tried to keep pedaling fast, at some point I felt legs shaking with pain. I immediately stopped aside, had 200ml of tropicana and rested. Thankfully, there wasn't any damage and I could continue.

The stretches towards the end did become tough again, but inspired by others around, I kept going and the fruit was reaching Sultan Bathery by myself. CAM had booked an awesome resort for the night stay. It was still around 4pm only, as total distance till Sultan Bathery was only 80km. Expert riders had an additional option of going to Edakkal caves and be back - around 25km more with difficult uphills too. Most of us stayed put in the resort. After freshening up, we watched the last stages of the 3rd test match between India-WI. It ended in a tense draw with scores level and we all cursed MS Dhoni for his slow batting. But that was all soon forgotten as we hit the swimming pool in the resort. The water was very cold, but after initial dips, the body adjusted well. We had the pool all by ourselves. Perhaps others in the resort weren't that interested.

After an hour or so of rest, we were to walk to a nearby hotel for dinner. The walking proved more difficult than the pedaling of whole day. The legs were that stiff. After 1-2 minutes of struggling only we could do something close to walking. And obviously once we returned from dinner, we slept as if we hadn't for months. Early morning around 5AM we got wake up calls in form of CAM coordinators hitting the door-bell. The bodies were still stiff but the rest had raised our spirits and away we went with renewed energy.

Starting the ride on second day

Much like the first day, I struggled to match pace with majority of the group. However, I was content to be cycling at all compared to the feeling on first day's lunch point. The roads were patchy initially and at one stretch only mud road wet with rain. After about 20km, we reached Vaduvanchal after which the road was a beauty. Guess it was a national highway, but the traffic wasn't much. Riding was far far easier and road had less of ups and downs. For about 12km leading to Meppadi, we enjoyed the best part of the ride. Even with stiffness, I could ride much much faster than earlier. The balance was also good to do hands-free riding for decent stretch of 200-300m. Certainly, this portion of the event will remain memorable for long.

Soochipara Falls

Waynad being along the way made it even more pleasing. The tea plantations were more pronounced. However, the workers were perhaps shy/angry for us to take a picture of them. After Meppadi, the road became progressively patchy and uphills returned with vengeance. Along the way, I had started feeling some leg pain too. Though the desire to finish the ride was there, I just couldn't continue about 5km from Soochipara Falls - the end point. This last stretch had steep ups and downs and roads very patchy. While in canter, I even got hit with nearby cycle at a bump and got scratches :-/

Last 0.5-1km, the road to the Falls was even worse that the canter could not proceed further. So we had to go trekking up the hills which again was painful. After some snacks, we got tickets to the waterfalls only to discover that we had walk another km or so! But it was worth it all - the Falls was magnificent. Though the large crowd made it difficult to find comfortable spots. The water was very cold - almost ice cold and that too at noon. But we spent such a long time there that it was around 3pm when we started back to Bangalore. On the way back, I got to play the Mafia game for the first time which is feeling funny now that I recall. When we stopped for a tea break, I found walking even more difficult. But the experience of 120+km cycling was definitely worth it all.

1 comment:

snigdha G said...
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