On April 30, I went on a cycling trip to Munnar with The Bangalore Ascenders. It was my first trip with this group and I thoroughly enjoyed it. On Friday, I was barely able to concentrate on work because of my excitement. I reached the pick-up point first and waited eagerly for the others to turn up. We started out a little later than planned. We had some dinner on the way and some of us managed to get some shut-eye.
We reached Chinnar by around 11 in the morning. It took some time to untie all the cycles and take them down one by one. After setting up all the cycles, checking tire pressure, filling the water bottles and taking some pics, we all started out. I think it was almost 12 by then. The sun was beating down upon us and though we were at some altitude the heat rising up from the road was merciless. After an initial stretch of downhill roads the climb started. The gradient was not that high. But still it was tough especially since this was my first time on a hilly terrain excepting a failed attempt at Nandi Hills(6.5/8kms completed on cycle).
But, this time I had steeled my mind and decided that unless my legs fall off or something like that happens I am not going to give up. I kept up a steady/easy pace, refrained from changing gears too often on the uphill stretches, pedalled at 85CPM with one hand on the handle bar in a perfectly upright position, refrained from taking big breaks, used the downhill stretches to give my butt a break even though it was not giving me trouble… yet, and kept myself hydrated and used electrolyte and glucose to prevent fatigue.
Still, I was going through my water supply at a fast pace. The heat also was starting to get to me. Luckily there were plenty of wayside shops from which I kept refilling my water bottle. There was also a small waterfall where some of us took a shower under the cascading water. On the way a guy in a tour bus asked me whether I was crazy. I answered, “a little…” and pedaled on. Very soon the others had started to fall behind as they took a few big breaks and also stopped for a big lunch. I opted for tiny breaks of 5-10 mins and energy bars and biscuits. After a while the sun started going down and the heat eased up a little. The landscape started changing. The air started getting cooler. The tea gardens with water fountains started appearing on both sides of the road. I started enjoying the ride. But still the thought of more than 30 kms remaining weighed heavily on my mind. When I reached Marayoor, I took a bigger break and decided to wait for some company. After some 20 mins I thought that I would go on.
Again, the pedaling resumed. But, the thought of having covered more than half the distance provided me with some comfort. Every now and then, some kids would cycle alongside me and ask about my cycle and whether I really did think that I could make it to Munnar. I enjoyed the company and the occasional chats. After a while, the climb started becoming a little more steeper. There were no more breaks with downhill stretches. One friendly chap ran alongside me and told me that I had to cycle only some 10 kms more. After that the rest of the road to Munnar was downhill.
The landscape around me now had a scenic touch. As a child I always loved Munnar more than the other hill stations. Somehow, the seductive green tea covered hills, dripping with dew and draped in a light mist with the occasional shade tree touched and inspired me. Also, there was something about the place that made it distinctly Malayalee and I loved being in Kerala. That last climb was starting to drain me. I saw a neat scene with the sun peeking through the clouds just before setting. I decided to take a break and wait for company. After a while, to my great relief I saw Nitin cycling up the winding road at a terrific pace. He caught up and we cycled on together. He soon got ahead of me. But after a few more kms we reached the top and the remaining 12 kms was downhill.
I just let lose the fury of the painstakingly collected potential energy in one orgasmic 25 min climax. My Trek handled the 60kmph speeds with confidence and poise. When I leaned in to reduce wind drag I could hear the music from the tire and feel its magnificent momentum. It was like the handle bar was set in cement.
We reached Munnar by nightfall, had dinner at Sharavana Bhavan and booked ourselves into a cosy little two bedroom place for the night. I was expecting the next day to be easier. But, Neelima had said that it would be worse than day 1 as the 110 km distance contained both uphill and downhill sections.
The next day after breakfast we set off from Munnar a few at a time. After a few kms of uphill cycling there was a never ending stretch of downhill road and that too rubberized for the most part. I went at a terrific speed on those stretches and was entertaining fantasies of downhill roads till Thekkady. But they were to be cruelly slaughtered. After a while the roads evened out and then they started going up and down. It was extremely difficult after a while. If the roads are flat, then you can cycle on forever. But, if they are hilly, they will kill you slowly. But, the lush greenery around me, the knowledge that I was on familiar territory and the breaks that I made at wayside eateries all gave me the strength to go on.
But, then, disaster struck. I stopped at a tea shop, had 2 cups of coffee and set off. After about 6 kms of grueling climbing, I realized that I had forgotten my helmet. My heart was crushed… I had no choice but to turn back, After getting the helmet back from the shop, as I was cycling uphill again, I started thinking of why I was doing this… my left brain was ominously whispering, “This is MADNESSS!!”. But, then my right brain screamed back, “This is SABBUUU!!!” Boom! One stroke! Like that stroke by stroke, I made 40,000 of them after that…. I reached the last town before Kumily…
By then all the hypoglycemia induced crazy thoughts were driven away by several stout Snickers bars. I was feeling confident. The thought of having completed about 80kms made me happy. I remembered the reason for doing this. I considered this to be a test of character. I want to be a person who finishes things. I want to do things well and complete them. Thats why it was important that I reach Thekkady on my cycle… I thanked myself for not having called up the tempo. After leaving the town, I was suddenly overtaken by Nitin cycling at a healthy pace. By then, I had recovered my energy and enthu and I kept up with him. We reached Kumily, made our way to Thekkady which was 4kms away and came back to Kumily to wait for the others as the road to Bangalore was different from the road to Thekkady.
There was a last 8km downhill ride on bad roads which I thoroughly enjoyed before packing up and leaving for Bangalore. We had food on the way and I slept fitfully in the tempo.
All in all, a fantastic trip! Thanks to Ambareesh, Rajesh, Nitin and everyone else who made the trip possible and took great pains to make sure that cycles were safe. It was a pretty intense experience for me and made me understand myself a little better…