As I look back at the tour ride data, it still amazes me that we rode nearly 600 kms over the last 4 days which included some decent climbs taking the cumulative total to 4000 meters. On an average we rode well over 140 kms every single day of the tour and not a single day had cumulative elevation of less than 750-800 meters. The previous evening I was too exhausted from the first 100 miler of the tour and all I could think of was beers and food, most importantly some well deserved sleep. We closed the day with couple of beers, pepper chicken and egg omelette at Hotel SR Park with my other roadie mates. As usual we discussed about biking tours in India, what to ride in 2014, how different and difficult was TfN from ToT and of course the desperate search for food that day.
It is amazing how days pass by when you least want it to. Not so long ago, I was cursing the clock for going in slow motion and the endless wait to take the first flight out of Bombay for the Tour of Tamil Nadu. And now, here I'm lying in my bed thinking that 'today' will be the penultimate day of the tour and very soon I will be going home. I wanted to get out of my bed but I did not want to. That extra 10 mins of sleep felt eternal. The bums were numb and skin on my arms was already cracking. Rather unwillingly, I jumped out of my bed for the penultimate loop ride of 134 kms to Kalrayan Hills which boasted of 1300 meters of climb. The previous evening I had taken out my favorite ITALIA jersey which I had been saving for the day and it cried and yelled the color 'BLUE'.
Thankfully, VDHehe did not tell me he is not riding like he did the previous day. Had he done that, I would have helped him to throw that bike of his down from the highest point in Tamil Nadu. He looked fresh from the rest he had taken the previous day and was raring to go. Like it has been on all other days, all of us assembled in the restaurant that had everything one could think of in its food menu but served none of it. We ate dosas, wadas and the usual pongal which was too greasy for my liking. I try my hand at speaking in whatever little Tamil I knew to the waiters but would make a complete fool of myself. Not that my Tamil was flawed but for the fact all the workers in that hotel were either from Nepal or from Bihar. They would answer back in 'shudh' hindi and I would reply them back in embarrassing, grammer-less, pretentious Tamil which in reality was nothing but broken Malayalam. So much for pretending to be a South Indian.
As always, I and VDHehe were one of the last bunch of riders to leave the hotel. Siva and the rest were nowhere in sight. The initially few kilometers were on false flats which did not appear to be harsh as we were assisted by decent tailwind. Sapeksh was with us for sometimes but he decided to take off while I was reluctant to do so. VDhehe too was going great guns pulling and ducking the wind. I was not sure whether he was trying to catch up with Siva and Co. or whether he just had fresh legs since he had not ridden the previous day. I thought it would be wise to just stick to his wheel as much as I can but it was hard. The gap would widen and I would press the gas pedal to shorten the gap. This continued for a while.
Thankfully though the torture of tailing VDHehe did not last long, we caught up with Siva, Venkat, Sapeksh and Jothi. Siva and the rest did not have the plans to complete the ride as per the ride docket but turn back after climbing the first 10 kms of Kalrayan. I initially agreed to it but deep inside I wanted to do the entire loop. Slowly, we ride by the side of some paddy fields and it was fun passing through the twists and turns of a village road. I wanted to stop for a few photos but looking at everyone just sitting there and riding, I thought otherwise. Soon we reach the check post at the base of the hills. I look back and I find only VDHehe with me. I could see some MTBers and knew that Anjali and Sanjay would be ahead. I had no idea that Siva and the rest have dropped back to take some pics. At the check post, the guard did not bother to raise the stop-bar so we had to get off the saddle and walk by the side. It was the case at all check post we passed through during the tour. They would raise the bar only for motor vehicles. I thought fair enough I was more than happy to get off the bike to give my bum that few seconds of rest. Any reason was justifiable.
The approach to Kalrayan was divine and from the base itself it was certain that we will ride through some awesomeness. The hill did not look intimidating from far and as we got closer and closer it became beautiful and totally untouched by human intervention. It was the case with most of the hills we climbed There were minimal damage to the environment like you would otherwise see at most Indian hill stations. 'If you want to ruin anything, all you need to do is call the Indians and Chinese", someone remarked. One of the reasons why these hills have remained clean and green is because of the distant proximity of major TN and Karnataka cities. The weekend crowd would not bring their ugly habits and ruin everything they set their eyes on. Kalrayan was free of such weekend crowd.
Photo Credit: Vaibhav Dandekar
We ride through some beautiful carved roads. The views were totally out of Avatar movie. I started of the climb with VDHehe but soon the distance between us started to expands. I was alone in kilometer or so of the climb. I would look down from the turns and hairpins to see how far above I'm from the mountain base. I passed Anjali and Sanjay pretty soon and slowly get closer and closer to Muthu. As I get nearer to him, I could hear him whispering and talking to himself. It was like a running commentary of what he is seeing and experiencing. I smile at him as I pass and found the whispering to be a good way of ignoring the pain that usually comes with gradients. Another 3-4 kms, I find Ulhas all by himself. I pass him too.
I look at my Garmin and I figure I have another 3-4 kms to go to reach the first summit.The roads were narrower on these mountains but very well laid. The shoulders were well carved and edges well secured by concrete and stone barriers. If I had monkeys to make me nervous on other days then on Kalrayan I had a cow. Into the distance I could a cow grazing by the road side. It spots me coming its way and kind of panics. I keep telling myself not to worry about the cow but 'hey, they are known to attack in self defense', I thought. It showed increased nervousness with every passing seconds and started to run. It was of course tied up so it had limited place to go. I get nervous too but decide not to stop. Stopping and getting of the saddle is against the roadie principles and it will haunt me for the rest of the day. Those stupid roadie rules, I say. I decided to just slowly go past it. Had I stopped then it would be a sign that I'm afraid. And, that meant trouble for me.
Photo Credit: Vaibhav Dandekar
Thankfully, I survive that scare and soon find the 3 kms long descend which really was not so great. But my increased confidence of descending wanted me to attack it every possible sense. I negotiate the turns and curve to reach the first pit stop. I find Bhaskar waiting there who was the lead biker for the day. We take 3-4 mins break to have our routine glass of salted lemon juice and bananas. We soon leave the pit stop for the rest of climb which were not difficult at all. The first pit stop was at the 40th kilometer and next one will be at the 90th. The rest of the climbs were short and rollings. The gradients were around 4-4.5%. I drop Bhaskar within a kilometer of the pit stop. There was no one in front of me.
Soon, I approach the long 6-7 kms long descend into flat lands. I look behind to see if Bhaskar is anywhere near but do not see him. The final descend was quick and totally surreal. Kalrayan hills were giving me goosebumps. The mountain tops looked awesome and it did not stop. It kept coming. The turns and curves made me feel like a MotoGP rider with the bike swaying to the right and left. It was an amazing experience. I knew I had only a few more of those descends left as the tour was coming to an end and final ride into Trichy will be all flat lands. I wanted to make the best of it. I soon arrive at the 2nd pit stop. I chase the support vehicle which kept tempting me for a chase.
The entire hill range was about 45 kms which included a long climb followed by some fast and slow rollings and then the long MotoGP descend. Within a few minutes of arrival, Bhaskar shows up and we stop for a while for others to catch up. At the stop I'm told that Siva and the rest have turned back as planned and VDHehe has had a puncture. I thought there is no point waiting any longer. Its time to get close the day.
Muthu and Ulhas arrives and the look on their face said it all. Muthu leaves early as he did not want to wait for long and of course his urge to reach the hotel first. I join Ulhas and Bhaskar for the rest of ride into Kallakurichi. We had to negotiate the poor roads from the yesterday as it was a loop ride but the torture of food hunt was not there. We slowly negotiate the shoulder-less road to hit the state highway once again. We stop at a junction for quick tea. Anjali and Sanjay also arrived within a few minutes but Anjali decided to continue. Sanjay joins us for a tea and soon departs to catch up with Anjali.
We slowly make our way into Kallakurichi. We sit behind every truck that would come our way to draft and to avoid the headwind as much as possible. I tackle the distance like the way I did the previous day. We were just shy of 30 odd kms. Lapping at every 10 kms, I take the laziness out of my head. Bhaskar and Ulhas decided to draft the trucks further but I was little hesitant after looking at the traffic and the constant braking. I decided to fall back and close the day with an easy final kilometers. I find the two of them having coconut water about a kilometer from the hotel but I did not stop.
Stage 7 of ToT was now complete and mind was already getting ready to go home to my wife and my father. I was in no mood for the last day. How would I ? It would be another 100 miler on flat lands and I'm not fond of flats. Nevertheless, it was a great day on the saddle, the day I felt possessed by my brother's spirit, the day I felt relieved that I had a great tour. We now have 821 kms in our legs, 7500 meters of elevation and 40 hours on the saddle.