Tuesday, July 16, 2013

No Hype Bangalore - Kolhapur - Bangalore 1241 km

What an excitement waiting for the 11th July morning! What a fantastic pace for the first day! Heaven leaked non stop on second day. Followed by a boring 3rd day and painful first half of 4th day and exhilarating pace in the second half of the 4th and last day! There ends the most painful brevet so far.

How I decided to ride this one

2011 was my brevet year. 2012 was my BBCh year. However, because of a mechanical failure in 1000K in 2011, I chose to ride the 1000K in 2012. That time, I told my wife and close friends that it would be the last brevet for me. I had been hard on my wife by leaving two kids while she manage her full time job as well. But when Ganapathy had to quit the 1000K in 2012, I decided and assured him that I would accompany him either a 1000K or 1200K whichever he would decide to ride though I preferred 1200K. So, this was conveyed to wife way back last year itself.

2013 - I had the urge to ride brevets many times. At times, I even registered and paid and couldn't go due to some or other reasons. But I was hell determined that I shouldn't have any excuse for the 1200K. I informed my team-mates (Cleated Warrior) that we should all ride and make this brevet the best executed and a memorable one. Ganapathy, Venkatachalam, Kiran Kumar, Vinay Raj, Deepak had tentatively agreed to ride this one, but none has confirmed. If there is one thing I hate most about sports - changing schedules. So, this half-confirmed and half-unconfirmed was kind of testing my nerves at times.

Meanwhile, a 400 km to Yelagiri climb came up just 4 days before the 1200K. I couldn't resist it as I had never been to Yelagiri, thanks to Venkatachalam for letting me know this one as I would have missed otherwise. We did the 400K together and he successfully fought off an ITBS and finished, but that put a big question mark on his 1200K. In fact, we all decided that we wouldn't ride it. It was Venkatachalam, who re-kindled the 1200K again. And with over-excitement, I said, I was in if he was in. Meanwhile, Deepak also agreed to register and convince the home and work. Ganapathy was completely ruled out with some training schedule. So, Deepak, Venkat and I had paid the fees and fingers crossed. Venkat had to additionally ensure that his ITB was good to go. At the last moment, Venkat was ready to go, but his daughter had a minor accident in school and had to call off this ride. Deepak didn't get green signal from his home front. So, I was prepared to go all alone, despite wife asking me why I would have to ride if no body else is riding. I didn't answer that question, rather I retorted back "no more brevets after this one - neither short nor long". She was still grumpy - "you said the same last year too".

Preparation for the big day

Since family was not happy with my ride, I didn't dare to ask for any help - neither in getting stuffs nor in getting the needed extra sleep. I had been deprived of sleep because of the 400K and duathlon (by life is calling where I came 6th) three days ago. And I continued to be deprived. All I focused for that three days was to get the required items one by one: a pair of extra batteries, electrals, multitool, frozen readymade parathas. Ganapathy promised that he would hand over the batteries and multitool on my way to the start point. I bought 10 sachets of electrals the day before. All set to go.  Ah, I had to install a new cyclo computer as my old one was resetting in certain wire positions.

Day 1

I had kept extra rice the night before so that I could eat them before starting. I struggled to stuff them through mouth as I was not hungry and stomach was full as I had late dinner the previous night. Yeah, I was running around to buy paani poori, capsicum masala, french fries, etc. for wife and kids - yes, it was wife's birthday and we do some basic things at least for the kids. So, I got my own dinner late. No problem. I managed to eat as full as I could. I started and picked the batteries and tool from Ganapathy. Sreeju just caught me up at Gana's gate. We reached the start point 5 minutes ago.

I told all my close friends and team-mates that I was going to make use of this lonely ride to test my best pace. I targeted my own R60, i.e. finish in 54 hours (60% of 90 hours). Though I didn't disclose this to anyone, I always kept this in mind - till day 2 evening.

As we were flagged off with well wishers from Anil and Parag, I reset my computer. I didn't look back who was coming behind, I just chose to pick a good pace. Somaskanda joined me right from the beginning. I was happy to ride with him as I had ridden with him in my earlier 400K Chitradurga ride this year. He is strong and energetic. We rode at an average pace of 30 kmph. I told him that I had heavy breakfast and thus I intended to skip the breakfast. So, I offered him the parathas if he should decide to stay with me. I promised him a paratha for every couple of hours and regular water refills. He was okay with that. He got a flat at Tumkur - it seemed like he hit a stone. I helped him change the tube and fill up the air. Vishal caught us up just as we were ready to go. I earlier thought that Vishal might ride with Sohan as he did last year. But he seemed to have decided to go on his own pace like he did in 2011. Vishal stopped for breakfast in Tumkur itself (about 80 km) while Somas and I continued. Somas was struggling a bit in the climbs as we mashed 30 kmph average (excluding the puncture stop). So, we agreed to go easy on slopes. We refilled water and a few biscuits in Sira toll booth. We continued again at about 28 plus pace. By this time, Somas was really struggling. Vishal suggested that his heavy bag which he was carrying behind his saddle (must be at least 5 kg) and his back pack were slowing him down. So, we looked for a place to dump them so that we could pick them up on the return. Just when we found a place to dump at 150 km mark, he got another flat. We helped him change the tube and inflate again while we agreed that he should wait for next rider with whom he would be more relaxed. I suggested that Sreeju should be a good bet if he wants to continue fast. But I strongly suggested that he shouldn't quit and shouldn't be slowed down by anybody unduly till 400K Hubli station, because there is no point in slowing down for someone who is going to quit anyway (that was from my last year experience).

As Vishal and I approached the Chitradurga control, we climbed the slopes against the headwinds. Soon, I was losing steam and I realized that the two parathas I had was not sufficient and I sorely missed the breakfast which I skipped. Vishal slowed down and kept looking behind to make sure that I was still visible. Thanks Vishal. We reached the control about 2:40 PM (if I recollect) correctly. I didn't want to leave Chitradurga without a good lunch. We stopped pretty long as the hotel took sweet time to serve us food. Each one of us had two chicken biriyani plus one fish fry. I was feeling nice and full. We left Chitradurga at about 3:45 PM. We started slowly till our stomach settled down. Vishal was doing the pulls as I just stayed behind his wheels. Soon, he got a flat (his second one; he got his first one when he came out of his house). He didn't have any more spare. So, I lent one of mine. Both of us sounded pretty confident that we wouldn't get any more flats! We started riding again and just then Sreeju caught us up. So, three of us rode at a very good pace with Vishal leading the line. Vishal pulled for exactly 20 km when I hinted that I was feeling good and I could share the pull again. Just when I started pulling, about 3 km, Vishal got another flat. Meanwhile, we seemed to have dropped Sreeju who had already burnt too much while catching us up. We fixed the puncture as I didn't want to use up the next tube. While fixing one of his tube, the other one lost the valve! So, Vishal was without a spare as I took back the punctured tube from him. Sreeju caught us up and let him continue so that Vishal and I could go faster to catch him. When we continued, we saw Sreeju also fixing a flat. We three continued together from thereon. Vishal and I agreed to share the pull 10km alternate. Vishal pulled longer at times when he felt good. We were really munching miles with hardly any headwind and amazing weather condition. By 8PM we covered 304 km and Sreeju got another flat. We became lazier by this time and were in no hurry to fix up quickly. We decided that we would stop for dinner at Kamat which was just around there. We took a longish break to order meals, biriyani, paneer fried rice, banana milk shake, etc. We started off after a lazy dinner and soon, all three of us felt drowsy. None of us seemed to have slept well the previous night. We decided to find a place to sleep. We saw a petrol pump at 317 km mark. Two boys were running towards us gleefully with the usual enthusiasm we see in villages. But we were not to get a place to lie down in the petrol pump. But the two boys told us that we could come to the dhaba (Ghar Dhaba) attached next to the petrol pump. We were given wooden bench (as wide as cot - about 3 feet wide) - three of them for three of us. We woke up at about 11:45 PM and had coffee. The Dhaba didn't accept money - neither for the hospitality nor for the coffee. We thanked them a lot and said that we would stop for food on the return.

As we continued, to my surprise, Vishal was feeling down and lethargic. He was unable to climb at the rate Sreeju and I were going. We stopped every now and then to make sure that he was around. Sreeju didn't have a jacket and he rode all through night drenched. It was pouring like hell and shivering cold. Finally we reach the toll gate which was 52 km before Hubli. We stopped there for a while. We got tea offered by the toll plaza guys. We chatted and then continued in the rain again. I kept wondering how Sreeju was managing without a jacket. We continued again and Vishal wasn't still getting recharged. Sometime around 3AM we decided to have some food. We stopped in another dhaba where we had omelets, biriyani and tea. We again spent quite a lot of time there. I shared my electral with Vishal while Sreeju lent some more of Electrovion with me. We left the dhaba. I don't remember the time. But we managed to reach the Hubli control at day break - Sreeju and I reached first and Vishal came in about 5 or 10 mins later. Since both Vishal and I had done this route earlier, finding the ATM was really easy. During this night ride, I felt slight sense of my left knee joint crackling (sign of the old injury I had in my 100 km ultra marathon in Nov 2012) and also slight ITB strain on the right knee. I took it easy though I mentioned to Sreeju that they might have to leave me behind in case I couldn't match their pace.

Day 2

We left Hubli immediately. Soon we were on the highway again. All three of us were riding really well. For a hefty size like Sreeju, I was amazed at his climbing capability. Vishal and I would just about leave him behind in the up and he would leave us behind again in the down... this cycle went on for quite a distance. We were going really good in the incessant rain. After sometime, Sreeju and I went a little more ahead of Vishal. That was when I got a flat. My first flat. I had an handkerchief (white one) and used it to wipe the muck around the tire before opening the tube. Vishal arrived and we changed the tube. I told Vishal that we should share the phone numbers and he should keep one of my tubes with him - the punctured one so that he could use it after repairing. He said that he would patch it after rain stops. So, I thought all the while that he kept my tube. Another half an hour, Sreeju was left behind as I led a furious pace in every uphill. Another half an hour, I left behind Vishal too as I started hammering both uphill and downhill. Later, I realized that Vishal had kept the punctured tube in my handle bar bag. So, he was without any spare! I knew he was going to be in trouble if he would get a flat though he could repair and proceed.

I reached Belgaum at 10 AM. I desperately searched for a place for breakfast. Restaurants on the outskirts of Belgaum on highway told me that they were yet to prepare any food. I begged them that I was very hungry. They showed me a small road which would lead to an inner town and small eat out inside - about a km. I went inside and had 6 puris, a big bread bun, two dahi wada. I refilled both the bottles - one with electral and another just plain water. Each bottle is 700 ml. I actuall left 2 pooris on the plate as it was maida with full of soda and I was unable to gulp down.

I left at around 11:30 AM from there and continued. Rain continued. I struggled as my bike didn't roll on many of those cemented road stretches specially the ones with rough cross lines. At times, I would stop and look behind to assure myself that I was not climbing up - it was that bad... just not rolling. I was much better in tarmac climbs. Anyhow, I was not willing to push hard either as I wanted to baby my knees. I neither sipped water nor ate anything... just continued in the rain. I had to stop for nature call. I tried one of those bus waiting shed on the highway which had toilets. It was not in usable condition. So, I continued further and decided to use nature. It was tough sitting down with injured knees squatting and it was also messy with mud all around the legs, pants and behind the jacket. I always wear cotton under wear inside my lycra. This hadn't gone well with wet rain. Another reason was that with plastic poncho, I used to keep my pants dry in rain. My plastic poncho were all gone bad and with the rain jacket, pants were not only wet, but with fine mud slush inside. I really took time to accomplish this nature's task! I threw away the cotton underwear and continued. When it was about 70 km to Kolhapur, I got a call from Vishal and he was just 35 km more to Kolhapur. I told him that he should continue as I wouldn't push any harder. He said that he would wait for me in Kolhapur. I slowly inched towards Kolhapur... about 32 more km to go, there was this massive roll down... I was scared of the thought of climbing on the return. It was that long down slope. Entering Kolhapur was like entering Belgaum - welcomed by various climbs. My rear derailleur was not shifting due to muck. For every downshift, I ended forcing by clicking three times just to downshift once. I was worried that I was going to break the cable or the shifter. I reached the time control at around 4:15 PM. As I removed the gloves, shoes and socks, my palm and feet were in awful condition - it was soggy, nearly slimy and fully numb. I decided to ride without gloves. I washed my feet in the rain and put back the socks. I saw that the fevibond was squeezed out by the toolkit in the bumpy rides and I would need to buy one in Kolhapur. Just then, Vishal called me and told me that he got a flat 10 km away from Kolhapur and his tube beyond repair. I told him that I would immediately start and share his glue on the way and I would share my tube. As I proceeded, I didn't find Vishal on road side. Later I would learn from Chidu that Vishal got the flat 10 km before Kolhapur, not 10 km after Kolhapur. So, I would have never met him on the side I was looking for. I called about 10 to 15 times and he didn't pick the phone. Now, I had to buy a glue before dark as I would be riding alone. I entered a small town, somewhere 15 km after Kolhapur. I asked every damn shop - stationary, paint shops, electricals, hardwares, none had a fevibond. They had only feviquick. Finally, I asked a cyclist where I would find a cycle workshop. He showed me a way and I bought a tube of glue. Relieved, I ate 4 bananas and continued for a lone ride. For a change the terrain was rolling crazy or it looked rolling really fast in the dark. I was just 40 km before Belgaum in no time. Around 9 PM I stopped in a dhaba and ate chicken Biriyani again. Just when I started from there, I got another flat. I again used the kerchief to clean the muck and changed the tube and continued. After sometime, I was drowsy and I didn't like the ride alone. I had never ridden a brevet without partner and chatter. This was something I just couldn't do - a chilled night with dark ghosts in vast open fields on both sides of the highway. I stopped in one of those bus waiting shed. But I was drenched enough that I was not getting proper sleep. Yet, I tried and got a little bit of sleep. Every time I woke up, I would see the rain pouring and I would again go back to sleep. Whenever I continued riding, I would get warm and get drowsy again. This was really strange!

Day 3

After a few hours of such struggle, I continued riding. I crossed Belgaum around 4 AM or so. I was feeling good. Not hungry, nor thirsty. I still had the water that I filled in Belgaum onward. Soon after the toll plaza, I stopped for tea and biscuits. I just topped up one bottle with water too just in case. I proceeded. It was not raining anymore and highways were a bit dry. I decided to wash my bike and also take a dump. I spent a lot of time washing the water bottle, bike, jacket, socks, shoes, etc. Then I proceeded. Around Dharwad, I decided to stop at Kamat at around 9 AM. I had three plates of idli wada, one kesri bath and one coffee. They took a lot of time as they were busy serving a full load of bus. I was also busy washing my face, hands, etc. Later, I reached Hubli control around 11:30 or so. I again took a wrong turn just a km before the control and I totally lost the direction. I asked for Rani Chennama circle and I was only going round and around the circle with no inkling of which road the ATM would come. I called Chidu and told him that I would just take any ATM slip and ask people of how to get on the Chitradurga highway. I came back and took the slip from another SBI ATM right opposite the police station. I asked one workshop to pour some oil on my chain the cassette. It improved the ride and the grinding reduced. I drank two maza bottled in a bakery and left Hubli.

As I hit the highway, sun came out. I also faced quit a strong cross wind with a bit of head wind feel. Another 10 or 15 km on the highway, I decided to dry my socks and gloves. I stopped in the median. Just when it was about to dry, it rained again. That was the last attempt. I put on the wet socks again and started riding. Meanwhile, I got two more flats and I realized that my vitoria rubino tire on the rear had done more than 10000 km and hardly anything left. It was all chopped everywhere. I swapped with the front hutchinson tires, which were comparatively new and no cut marks till then. At around 7:40 PM I was only 101 km away from Hubli control and I reached the Ghar Dhaba. I told myself: perfect time to get some sleep as late nights are too cold for sleep and also to give some rest to my knees and other parts of the body. I called Chidu to double check the closing time in Chitradurga time control (my cue sheet got washedout). Food was not ready, but they made a paneer biriyani in lesser time so that I could go to sleep. I SMSed Srinivasan informing where I stopped so that we could ride together in the night. Dhaba guys gave me a blanket too and when I woke up, it was already 11:40 PM. I ordered 4 roti and one bhendi fry masala and a coffee. I saw Srini's SMS which he sent at 8:22 PM and he was not going to stop for me as he wanted to go all out till Chitradurga in 6 hours from Hubli. So, I rode alone again in the night. It was rolling nicely and but I was bored to hell. My knees felt significant strain by this time and I chose my strokes only pushing at angles where it does not hurt. I remembered that stretch last year when Chidu struggled to keep himself awake to meet the time control. Near Devangere, picnic goers or trekkers in cars with full blast music flashed lights at me and for a moment I thought: why would Chidu keep a secret control just a few hours to Chitradurga. I stopped and enthusiastic youngsters with alcohol smell in their mouths posed for photo with me and they said that they were going to a trek. I continued and reached Chitradurga in the wee hours again.

Day 4

I stopped again for tea and biscuit and then proceeded. In one of the narrow bridge, it was glass pieces all over and high speed trucks were roaring from behind. I could avoid running over the glass pieces and I got flat again. I changed the tube, fixed the punctured tubes also as it was not raining. I lowered the saddle about 5 mm down so that my knees would flex lesser. I also reduced my air pressure to reduce shock. It was so low that if I hit a bad pothole, I was sure to get a flat and probably damaged rim. By this time, Srini caught up with me. I thought he would have gone far ahead of me. I told him that I would plan to make at just about closing time and I informed the same to Chidu. I continued riding uncomfortably with so many sore and numb parts - bums, feet, palm and injured knees. Later, I saw Srini again, who had just finished his breakfast and ready to go. I told him that I had so much energy left and food was the last time I needed. My knees didn't allow me to spend my surplus energy. Srini took off in a nice rolling tailwind while I just managed a mere 18 to 20 kmph average in those awesome tailwind. I was only preparing for the climbs towards end point. At around 11:15 AM, without about 135 km to go, I stopped in a field, on a stone slab under a tree. I removed socks, lied down for a while. I walked a bit on pebbles bare feet. I could see red marks and they were not just impressions, but real pinched skin on the swollen feet by those blunt pebbles. My feet were that much soggy and swollen. It was really hurting. I SMSed Venkat and he advised to do what he did... stop and stretch for every 20 mins. I promised I would do the same. He also told me to use knee bands and pain killers. I had never used pain killer sprays and I don't know how it helps... I told him that I would try it.

So, about 12 PM noon, I was ready to take 20 mins at a time. Miracle! Miracle! I found a specific riding style which allowed me least flexing of knees and body bobbing sideways for every stroke and at the same time, found a place behind the crotch which was still not hurt. I ducked down on the drop bar, hammered about 13 km in about 20 mins. I took a break. Removed socks, stretched legs, put back the socks and repeat this 20 mins exercise. In about an hour and 15 mins I had cut down my required mileage to just within 100 km. Just before Sira toll gate, I heard a shouting and I glimpsed that it was Srini stopping in a tree shade. I continued without stop, maintaining my 20 mins sprint and breaks. In almost every break, I drank a couple of slice bottles or would eat 4 bananas. I had not taken any salt or electrolyte drink in the past two days as my body was never put to stress. I ripped and ripped keeping a tap on the knees every now and then. I had some 15 jack fruits too. Finally I reached by ripping the Banashankari climbs as well, though in a bit of off road style as I maneuvered on the sides of the heavy traffic. Finally reached the end point at around 5:45 PM. All along from Chitradurga till end, I was wishing for a shower which was not fulfilled. I was filthy, stinking and wounds in my feet, ass, and totally numb fingers and palm - just good enough shifting gears. Surprisingly, the last 135 km sprint hasn't worsened the knee injuries. I was so happy for that. I left after about 40 mins of chatting. I heard Srini struggling to find the outer ring road turn over phone with Chidu. I knew he would be reaching any time after that.

Anil and Parag turned up again to welcome me. Thanks guys. Though quitting is never an option for me in general, it is the image of you guys at finish line or your eager reads in BBC or facebook updates make me keep going stronger. This blog is dedicated for you. I know it is a bit too detailed, but I wanted to write all that I experienced.

I also dedicate this ride to my team mates (Cleated Warriors) who had been behind most of my biking in Bangalore. If it is befitting enough, I dedicate this specially to the team-mate whom we once fondly called coach, who had to stop biking because of a genetic disease - Sudhir Palliyil. Coach, we shall see you coming back to biking - strong and healthy - sooner than later.

Other thoughts

On the way towards Chitradurga, I was thinking that people would start quitting early because of the headwind. But riders were stronger and more determined in this ride than any other brevets I had seen. It is really sad to see them quitting at some stage. They really fought hard. It is life. Wish them a stronger finish next time.

I also regret leaving behind Sreeju and Vishal. If I had stuck with them, I would have helped them in mechanical issues and they would have helped me riding through the nights and boring days. Together we would have made much earlier to the finish.

Best to go with slippers for rainy rides. I was penny wise pound foolish by not ditching the shoes on the way to trade for a slipper.

I think I will keep my promise to my wife this time. So, no more brevets for me. I'm not sad because she had been very lenient with me so far and I'm all the more grateful for that.

The only brevet I had lost weight. I lost about 3 kgs. My weight stood below 57 kg after shower. I don't know where all my eating went into. [Edit: 09-Mar-2015] Inserting a photo taken by Anil at the end point just to show how much mass I lost: