Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wondrous Waynad cycle tour - 18,19 Jan 2014

Long time (15 months) since I last did cycling in western ghats. I was excited to see CAM's ride announcement - a new route in Waynad. It seemed perfect to re-start mountain cycling in same place I started my very first one. Something similar I had done when I re-started trekking after a break.

We started from Hockey stadium near Shantinagar at around 10:15pm, about half an hour behind schedule. Got talking to Kranthi and Hashi about CAM and other cycle rides as well as TAM. A very enthusiastic foreigner Mike was getting to know us all too. Later we came to know his cycle trip Chennai-Pondicherry-Trichy-Madurai-Kanyakumari-Trivandrum-Kochi-(forgot some)-Tirupathi-Chennai. Reached Century Grand Hotel in Mananthavady around 7:30AM - two hours behind schedule. The roads were bad too, dunno which route it was. Such a bumpy ride and driver kept asking for directions umpteen number of times.

 Just to give a peek into crazy Ups and Downs (More details here)

First stretch to Thirunally:
After breakfast (2 dosas, 1 vada and coffee - gave the extra 3rd dosa to my college mate Ragavsathis and his friend Gopal), we finally started 10 minutes after 9AM. My rented bike was Giant MTB - such an irony for my thin body, the tires were as thick as my biceps :D It was such a misfit for my weight and road, but still in decent condition compared to my previous rides with CAM.

We were handed maps with important check-points highlighted - thankfully altitude info wasn't printed (it hinders than help ease our struggles). First 2-3 kilometers were a breeze - given downhills and our freshness. But then hardships started which was to repeat consistently over 100+ km. Short as well as slow long stretches of uphills followed by downhills and very few stretches of flat roads. We three kept close to each other initially, talking about how many km we will cover. I boasted that I want to finish the entire 160km plan over two days, as I have never finished a CAM ride before. By the time I did first 10km to reach Kartikulam in about an hour, I subtracted 10km in best case and 30km in worst case. We should have started much earlier and must have given more gap after breakfast.

Bad decisions:
Despite previous experience, I took frequent stops for first 10km stretch and drank up half liter of water. Worse, I mixed Electral to remaining half liter at Kartikulam - body now wasn't going to get used for long haul. I had forgotten to bring along CAM t-shirt (can stuff things in) as well as the small handy Quechua backpack!

Begur Reserve Forest:
For next 4-5 km, we had Begur forest for company, mostly to our left side. By now, my immediate goal was to just complete morning stretch of 31km one way to Thirunally and then decide. The Giant MTB was upto some mischief too - not content with being heavy, it refused many a times to go in the lowest 1x1 gear combination for steep uphills and chains made odd sounds in low gear just to make it eerier. We took our first long break closer to end of forest stretch.
Later I overheard that 2-3 deers hopped across the road pretty close to a cyclist.

Making it to Thirunally despite misgivings:
I did eventually make it to Thirunally in 3 hours - a pitiful average of 10km per hour. But my thighs were hurting too much when I got down and could barely walk straight. Of course, along the way people stared at our madness, but always helpful in pointing or confirming the direction we were going. I was confounded to see a guy returning when I was still 8-9km from Thirunally :( I am proud though to have kept going and try to do my best. I was one of the last to reach - if not last.

Good decision 1:
After lime juice and some rest, I decided to return to Mananthavady in bus instead of cycling. Given the hot conditions and uphills, I would have done only 5-10km anyway before being swept by canter. Instead, I got to rest about 3 hours before afternoon ride and some sleep too. Lunch was at Century hotel - meals (decent chappathi, awesome dal, sambhar, rasam, carrot poriyal, chutney and white rice - fatter than usual tamil nadu rice)

Starting ride on day-1 from Mananthavady
Banasura Sagara Dam:
After some rest post lunch, we started towards the second ride of the day - Banasura Sagara Dam. I was told that this one will be tougher than morning route! Naturally I asked if it will be easier going or coming back - and the reply was that it will be equally tough. I told myself again to give my best shot. Initial few kms were easy like in morning, this time hoards of school/college students watched us with curiosity/awe/amusement/jeer. I was carrying tropicana 200ml pack and energy bar (both unused from morning ride) - determined than before to reach the dam.
First check-point was a place called Naalam Mile (4th mile, which actually was 6.5km from Mananthavady - I don't think it is a coincidence). Midway - near Taruvana, I came across Phaneesh who got stuck as one of the peddle's bearing went awry. I commented that I had good chance to finish given only first canter was ahead of me while other one and bus were behind. He replied that lot of riders were behind me too and I said that I knew my limitations! Little did I know that eventually I will be the last one to reach the dam despite starting first from Mananthavady :D

Banasura Sagara Dam
Somewhere, when I got really tired and difficult to peddle, I stopped for sometime and had half of the energy bar. A 6-7 seater car too stopped nearby while most of the riders passed by me - some asking if I was okay. A little after 5 PM, I was the last to reach and breathed a sigh of relief. I felt that I could give a quick visit to dam and then do some riding back before it gets dark. The canter driver had already purchased tickets for us (Rs 20 for entry).
It was about a km walk (some climbing too) - was difficult given the thigh pain. Water and island reminded me of Sharavathi Backwaters. I did some running too for the heck of it and reached others already assembled at far end. Some tourists were enjoying high speed boat ride (two of them), but we lost opportunity as tickets were closed before we came. I finished the other half of energy bar, got some pics taken by others camera. Some chit-chat and group pics later, we started back. Sun set was hidden by tall peaks and also ensured that no one was allowed to ride back in cycle.
Our cautious driver took about 40-60 minutes to reach Century hotel that some commented we could have ridden in cycle only :D I took a cold water bath and had dinner - same menu as lunch. I didn't mind though. Back in room, I took a nap with songs playing on mobile while waiting for Ragav and Gopal to return. Due to shortage of rooms, some of us had to sleep on extra bed somehow fit inside the room.

Group pic (Picture Credit - Phaneesh)

Ignoring thigh and bum pains to start day-2 to Kuruvadweep Islands:
I woke up at 5:15AM to get freshened up. I gobbled up an entire packet of Oreo and red banana (my favorite for treks/cycling/running). By 6:40AM, we started towards Kuruvadweep Islands. Initial 5km was to be same as morning ride on Saturday. I shuddered thinking I had to climb that steep stretch towards Kartikulam. It is so difficult to explain why our body doesn't want to do the difficult stretch again and craves for unknown (perhaps even tougher path) than one already done before :-/
Anyway, our first check-point for the day was Payampally - about 8km from Mananthavady. We would have easily missed the landmark turning away from Kartikulam route if not for cyclists waiting for next one to stop before continuing. This place was called 54 (54th mile I suppose, but definitely not a distance from Mananthavady). Myself, Ragav, Gopal and another (forgot name) had coffee/tea while waiting for next batch to turn up. We almost missed one guy going past. After coffee, I forgot my helmet, thankfully was pointed out immediately. This stretch was mostly downhill, road not so bad, with couple of short steep climbs.
Payampally to Kuruvadweep island stretch of about 9km is one I am proud of having done it both ways. There were more downhills while going, but uphills were also demanding. Cycle was behaving okay so far in that it let me go 1x1. And so, I wasn't doing so bad in reaching the place just before 8:30AM. Took some pictures and had breakfast - light one (two idlies and one vada). Then arose the great debate - what next. Assumption of passing by the islands at 9AM was off by 1 hour as tourists are allowed only after 10AM. Many options were considered and debated and finally three types category emerged. Apparently, the other side of this vast water body was about 1-3km off the road we were going towards Sultan Bathery. So some cycled with aim to reach Sultan Bathery and ditch visiting Kuruvadweep island altogether. Some got in bus to ride 13-15 km to that point and then cycle (thereby avoid harsh uphills till Payampally). And the third category told themselves to cycle till that point and visit islands, thereby missing ride until Sultan Bathery. Of course, there might have been some who didn't cycle at all from here.

Breakfast point on Day-2 (Kuruvadweep Islands)

Good decision 2:
I was initially thinking of option two. But then seeing delays in loading cycle, etc I somehow decided to take on the uphills and ride on. Looking back, it was very good decision - I got more time to ride, momentum was maintained while Sun wasn't yet high and allowed my wish to come true - complete 100+km two days combined! :)

As can be seen in altitude map around 10 mile mark, the ride back to Payampally starts with crazy crazy uphill. Whats worse, my cycle was back to taunting me by not allowing 1x1. I did somehow manage the climb though without dragging. Kilometer by kilometer I inched forward, few downhills helping in giving break as well as carrying the momentum a little before uphill started. Another crazy climb just before Payampally - I was cursing cycle for not giving 1x1 to Venkatesh as he passed by and strangely it did allow me 1x1 and climbed that stretch too. I was only too happy to concede credit when Venkatesh jokingly asked for getting the 1x1 combination.

Towards Pulpally:
Roads were still good, even though we were now passing villages. It didn't seem like state highway. Only thing I was concentrating on was to keep going, gritting my teeth and pressing my nails into handle grip when I was close to end of uphill. Often I would also try to count or just repeat 1-2 1-2 1-2, something I found useful during Nandi hills climb. Villagers were again helpful in confirming that my route was correct - one biker slowed to my speed to tell that cyclists were going towards Kuruvadweep in morning (his concern being I was in wrong direction) and when told we were returning from there and going towards Sultan Bathery, he re-affirmed that I was in right direction.

On the way, there was a bridge over a river, when I guess everyone must have simply stopped to take a pic. I did, to take a selfie even though all I had was 0.3MP phone camera.

Selfie pic time on the way to Pulpally

The CAM bus crossed me when I was only 2-3 km from the point to Kuruvadweep islands. That stretch was again some uphill and I was pretty close to complete exhaustion. The one liter refill from breakfast point was already over and I bought one to replenish. Wisely, I didn't add Electral. And energy bar was also still with me. To be used only for inevitable exhaustion point.

I kept going towards Pulpally instead of stopping where the bus had stopped for people to visit the islands (partly to keep momentum and partly as I saw downhill ahead). But within 3-4 km, uphills started and at a turning with shelter (bus stop?) I stopped for my sanity sake. For second day, I was using hiker sandals and not shoe. Better option I feel. I relieved myself, removed straps of sandals, did some stretching and sat on the bamboo seat to finally have the energy bar. Fully consumed, not half like previous day. Watched cyclists go by, people in two-wheelers, cars and buses having that strange looks.

I started again (feeling fresh atleast momentarily) and rode towards Pulpally with knowledge that bus would stop atleast an hour at island. I resolved to ride/drag until the second canter picks up. Near Pulpally, the first canter went past and halted. I caught up with Ragav and Gopal and had lime juice (didn't get water melon juice and more strangely, I never once saw tender coconut anywhere on the route, forget about getting sugarcane juice). As things stood, I had done 89+ km so far. I had to push for another 11+ km. Numbers are just that - numbers. But it formed a very strong desire over two days to keep going and push my limits.

Good decision 3:
Almost missed the right turn from Pulpally to Sultan Bathery, helped by localite just after I had crossed the turn. There was a good 2-3 km largely downhill stretch which rose my hopes of completing 100+ and even unthinkable possibility of reaching all the way to Sultan Bathery. Then started the most daunting uphill of all. Again, looking at map now, I am thankful of not having that info during the ride. I might have given up.

I had already started dragging at some places and so it wasn't difficult to convince myself to drag. I didn't know the length of the stretch, my cycle was adamantly refusing to go 1x1, Sun was harsh enough to feel the heat, lunch time and ofcourse the thigh and bum pains. Even walking was tough. Some remarked that I looked 'shit'. But then, second canter was long way back, desire to complete 100+ was still strong. And so, I dragged on. The downhill after this was only temporary relief.

And then came my third good decision. At a bend before uphill started again, there were cyclists having a break at a bakery. They bought me Halwa too. One guy had gone some distance and come back to wait for the bus. After rest, I decided to carry on, despite knowing it was uphill and possibly will get stuck in forest as warned by him.

Time was a blur with Sun beating down. I rode only few tens of meters sometimes. Lot of dragging. At frequent stops, sometimes I would let my shoulders fall down as if letting the body know that I accept its exhaustion. Somehow I kept going and was rewarded with another 2-3 km stretch that I could do continuously (with small uphills in between). The state I was in, I couldn't even ride on flat stretches.

Surprise end:
I knew I crossed 100+ km based on milestone marking of Sultan Bathery and deducting from map info we had. I stopped sometime to relieve myself and finish last drops of water (though still keeping one last tropicana 200ml pack). A short while later though I was surprised to see the first canter and other cyclists resting in shade off the road. I raised my hands in jubilation as they appreciated my efforts, one guy explaining my state for benefit of others. To put my effort in even better positive light, I completed 2 of the 3 rides, thanks to return ride from Dam getting cancelled as well as the last 13-14 km to Sultan Bathery. I only missed the return 31km stretch from Thirunally to Mananthavady. In a twisted way, I was never swept by canter and gave in once voluntarily. Good compared to my previous three rides with CAM. 11 hours for 100+km ride was nice to be proud of given the constant ups amd downs.

But looking at the map now, we just had 3-4 more km of uphill before a breeze of downhill ride to Bathery. Given I waited close to an hour there, I might have done it too. After some casual group pics, chit-chat and spotting a snake, we finally reached Sultan Bathery at around 3PM.

End of ride on day-2 (Picture Credit: Phaneesh)

Return back to Bangalore:
After lunch at Udipi (similar meals to one we had in Century hotel) and some bakery shopping (I got home made chocolates and coconut sweets, others got honey, tea, coffee, etc), we started 260km bus ride to Bangalore via wildlife sanctuaries and Mysore. Celebrated Anuj's birthday in bus, we sang birthday song and got kitkat. We spotted a wild elephant, given no chain on leg. Then back seaters played prank saying 'Wow, see that' pointing out at nothing in particular. And so, when I spotted deer later, very few saw :D

I couldn't sleep but wasn't boring to see trees pass by. Smart phone walas juggled to get their phones charged and play games or social network. Some even gambled by playing Rummy. Later, we got to play Dumb Charades. It was different in a way that there weren't actually teams split up. 3-4 guys (mainly Varun, Santosh) would act whatever was given and occasionally few others pitched in. 100 worst films list to enact was looked up in smart phones (sample: The wild world of Batwoman, Those magnificent men in their flying machines). Some classic ones too. And then when we switched to Hindi, we found it difficult to think in Hindi words :D

Our over cautious driver got to Hockey Stadium at 12:18AM :-/ We had only three short breaks in between and no dinner stoppage. Thankfully, I got an autowala ready to come to Indiranagar for 150 bucks (I was expecting demands of 200 or 250).

All in all, good ride and proud of myself personally but organizing was very poor.


venkatesh s said...

Awesome Coverage!! :) Thanks for mentioning me help you get 1X1 he he..

Sundeep said...

Hey thanks Venkatesh :)

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