Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Stage 7: Avatar Revisited at Kalrayan Hills

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.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Stage 6: 100 miler, Great Descend,Hunt for Food and Final Draft

It is now Day 6 and long ride awaits to Kallakurichi. The ride map spoke of 10 kms long descend from Yelagiri which we climbed the previous day and then a detour from Jolarpet which was mostly long false flat ride for most part of the distance. It would be the tour's first 100 miler. The legs were begging for mercy but the mind wanted more. So far, we have already covered 526 kms, climbed 5500 meters and burned over 17,000 calories in smoke. The previous evening was fun filled with everyone taking it easy with games, beers and food. The stay at Silent Water was great with brilliant ambiance and endless slaps and whips to scare those monstrous mosquitoes away. The cries by few after getting a massage from the masseur made it even more hilarious. God bless those malnourished Mumbai mosquitoes, I thought. 

As usual my roadie mates assembled in our room for endless supply of British Empire. The facebook updates continued all evening with everyone posting their photos and me celebrating a pain free climb. It was not a nasty climb and those 14 hair pins were good to negotiate.  I wanted to descend without any incident (which I did) and the tour has so far been incident free. The next day long distance kept playing in my mind but I did not want to think too much into it. I soon hit the sack for some well deserved sleep.

The alarm finally rings. VDHehe as usual was the first to wake up. I slowly get out of my bed and there goes the first news for the day. VDHehe has decided not to ride as he wanted to attend to some office work. I did not want to hear that and that too on a day that will see us do the 100 miler. In an endurance tour, the motivation that spreads around with constant encouragement coming from every rider is a great morale booster. So far, my ride partner has been a great source of encouragement. All riders soon assemble down for breakfast which included dosas as usual  and other South Indian spread. I and rest of the roadies - Venkat, Siva and Jothi decide to take it easy for the day. We join Gayatri and Ulhas for a chatty ride. 

The descend was mostly done alone but the plan was to assemble at the base and then ride all the way. The body language of everyone showed they wanted to take it easy.  I was more than happy to oblige. I was one of the first to reach the base and Siva as always was already waiting for us. We soon approach the town of Jolarpet. I have always believed, despite my views of Mumbai traffic and poor road, that my home city have some really disciplined drivers. I have ridden in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka but my experience have always been that of despise. Bangalore have all the rowdy drivers in the world, Kerala have a collection of mobile molesters and Tamil Nadu have brain dead people on motorcycles. I have never felt threatened riding in Bombay let alone rowdy behavior. The BEST drivers are an exception but, hey, the driver who sit behind the steering wheel of these buses are known to have smaller brains. 

Siva nearly avoided a near head on collision with a motor biker who just decided to take sudden turn to the right. It was so common to see motor bikers to just cut lanes all of a sudden and most would not care to see if anything is coming their way. I nearly missed crashing into the motorbike. All happened so fast that nearly all missed piling up into each other by seconds. I kept thinking then that I will go back to figure what  the statistics is for motorbike fatalities for the state. The abuses in different languages continued for the next 500 meters.

It was decided that Gayatri will be the pace setter and that all roadies shall stick to her wheels. I had a chatty ride with Ulhas who was sharing his experience of bike tour to Ladakh. We discussed everything from PBCH, BRMs and Ladakh. After listening to his stories, I was convinced that Manali-Leh-Khardungla will figure in my bike tour plan. I intend to ride it in 2015. The chit chat continued till the first pit stop. It became clear by this time that we will just tackle the day at ease. The beautiful villages continued to pass one by one and for the first time, frankly, I was looking around.

This particular Chammi caught my attention for the sheer size of it and facial expression. It had all the look of someone who will burn every ass that comes it way. It had reddish jawline which was painted red as if to signify blood. I had to stop and take photos. The aggression that these sculptures had fascinated me endlessly. Meanwhile, Gayatri continued her work in the front. We soon hit a patch of road which was poorly laid. The tour so far took us through some beautiful villages and pristine road conditions. We passed though some interiors roads passing villages after villages and those long queue of children who would shout 'race'. The joy on their face was priceless.  By this time, our group expanded and we were at least 10-12 riders all working together.  

We soon hit the main road and a short climb. As usual I was happy to see those gradients as I was getting bored of those flats and bouncy tarmac. I caught up with Bhaskar who was having his Jens Voigt moment in the front. VDHehe would have loved chasing him. It is always a great encouragement when you have someone in the front of you on a climb. It sort of becomes a chase and the mind game starts. Catching up and chasing Bhaskar was fun and I soon pass him. In no time, we reach the second pit stop and we are greeted by the smiling face of Bala Sir. I was happy to find a cot made of coir to sit and relax.

VDHehe soon joins us in the second support vehicle. It was not hot in terms of temperature but the sun was bright. Those salted lemon juice was a great relief. We had some cakes and bananas which was delicious as always. We are soon joined by Ulhas and Gayatri followed by Siva who was giving them good company. Another 10 minutes was spent talking about the villages we passed. Gayatri has so far done a good job setting very good pace and taking every effort to contribute as a cyclist determined to work together on a long day.

Photo Credit: ToT 2013

Photo Credit: ToT 2013

We soon depart the 2nd pit stop and once again take a detour as per plan to hit village roads. And thus started the pain. The road conditions were very poor and there was no shoulders. We wanted to stop by somewhere for tea or may be lunch. We kept hoping that a town would soon appear as per the ride docket but it was always a great disappointment. Everyone wanted food and that craving for food kind of backfired in my case. I felt if you start a day knowing that there will not be any food then you will kind of prepare yourself for it psychologically. However, in this case, food was the word that kept flowing from everyone's mouth. Those marked villages on the docket turned out to be very small town with barely any souls, let alone chances of getting any food.

Siva was loosing his patience and desperation on everyone's face became more and more evident. I was bored of those dry fruits and energy cereal bars. Soon, we find Vaz who was chasing the front riders. I say a few cuss words on him but with a smiling face. The never-ending one kilometer directives from villagers continued. We manage to survive that torture of village road (but not the village) and soon hit the state highway. We finally found a roadside stall where they served chicken biryani. Soon, all the rider park their bike and dig into whatever that was being served. I was little shy of eating there after looking at the place and hygiene but the grumbling stomach did not shy away from eating.

I eat plain biryani rice with egg omelette as there was no chicken left. Other like me starving to hell ate those over-oiled parattas and egg omelette. We were barely 30 kms away from Kallakurichi. On a longish day something as short as 30 kms appears like 100 kms. By this time, the mind games had already begun and all of us wanted to be done with the day. Siva and Bhaskar wasted no time and decide to hit the road. Siva once again showed why he is the best at drafting trucks. I did not want to join them instead I join Venkat, Sapeksh, Jothi, Ulhas and Gayatri. I would keep lapping my Garmin every 10 kms as the display would show distances being covered in meters and numbers would change fast. It worked for me mentally looking at it. I would look (and compare) at the balance kilometers with my ride in Bombay in terms of distance. I would  think about balance kilometers as some landmark point on the Eastern Express Highway in Bombay.

Thankfully, we come across those huge farm vehicles on the highway. I soon break away from Venkat, Jothi and the Joshis who will later join me as we approach the town of Kallakurichi. I draft those farm vehicles and I see kilometers being accumulated as we get closer and closer to the town. This drafting helps me get closer and closer to Siva and Bhaskar. The traffic on the road increased which kind of made me happy as it meant we were getting closer and closer to the town. I join Bhaskar for the rest of the journey thinking that I have caught up with him twice so far during the day. We stop by just 2 kms from the town for some fresh coconut water. At the town we were surprised to see a good hotel with decently large room. I go to my room and I find myself standing in front of the mirror admiring the sun tan. It was a great day which had loads of surprises, cuss words, desperation for food and finally coconut water which was a rarity so far in the tour. 

Day 6 is closed with 161 kms in the legs and 7 hours on the saddle. The day clearly went to Gayatri who kept all the men gelled together as a unit and ever-so-charming Ulhas who kept entertaining us. Tour of Tamil Nadu is now 687 kms and we have another 300 kms left. Day 7 will be the best day. The day I felt possessed by my brother's spirit tackling an epic climb of Kalrayan Hills and a brilliant descend.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Stage 5: Ride to Yelagiri, 14 Hairpin Bends, 14 Great Tamil Poets and Pacelines

The day of rest at Hogenakal was a well deserved break from the saddle. Many of the fellow riders decided to go for the loop ride of about 68 kms while many relaxed those tired legs staying put in the hotel. I and VDHehe took a day off. It was day for me to explore my iPhone and play endless amount of Pool and Stick Cricket. The bike needed some basic servicing in terms of a change of rear wheel tubes. I had picked up a slow puncture which thankfully did not show up the day en route to Hogenakal. I seriously wouldn't have wanted one after all the trouble I had to go through in Stage 2, I said to myself.

The rest day was spent cleaning the bike. VDHehe spent the day sorting his laundry. Later on, some of us were discussing about bike mechanics, I test rode the FUJI folding bike which Fizzy was supposed to ride and shared our experiences of how to climb hills. All attempts were made to enable a few guys like Pradeep Menon on hybrids to shift to a road bike. It was XMAS day, of course, and everyone was merry in their own ways. My roadie mates were all gone before dawn to catch some fish and have them cooked to their liking. They went on a short bike ride and rule was no lycra or helmet. I so wish I had joined them. Later in the evening, I and my roadie mates relaxed with couple of bottles of British Empire and then the usual expert commentary on everything from how to ride in the drops and what to do in a pace line. Evening was spent dressing up in the most coloured costume. Suresh lived up to his reputation of digging colours that even Picasso would be proud of. 

It would be a long 138 kms ride to Yelagiri and usual 1300 meters of climb. It would start off with a short 3 kms long climb which we had descended a few days ago riding into Hogenakal. I was looking forward to that short but steady climb with an average of 5% gradient. All roadies kind of started of scattered at the front, back and middle. I, VDHehe and Sapkesh were the last of the lot to leave the hotel. The Yelagiri, our destination for the day, is a fabled climb about 11 kms in length which boasts of 14 hairpin bends. I figured later from my fellow riders that the 14 hairpins have been named after 14 great poets of Tamil literacy. 

The initial 3 kms long climb from Hogenakal was a good way to remove all the lactic that had accumulated during the rest day. Within a few kilometers of start I was alone all by myself with Vaibhav taking it easy. He was excited about having the GPS TACX file fixed on his Garmin. Sapeksh also took it easy. I passed one and all over the next few kilometers and had soon reached the check post that marked the ghat section. For a kilometer or so I tailed Vankatadiri who I believe was busy filming the proceedings and surroundings on his head mounted camera. I kind of take a short detour and thankfully figure and turn back before it became another tour of the unknown.

I turn back and come across Vaibhav. Prob Gyan, the man with sunglasses and two of us ride for short distance. I try to tempt Prob to try out a few sprints and all out bursts. He was in his own self grinding some decent at low tempo effort. I and VDHehe drop him in couple of kilometers and we soon find ourselves taking turns to pull each other. VDHehe takes charge of the pace and we reach the first support station. We quickly refill out water bottles and as usual the support team is happy to spoil us with cakes of all varieties and bananas. We stop by to take some photos. Sanjay and Anjali as always were one of the first to arrive (and to leave) at the pit stop closely followed by Muthu. In no time, Sanjay and Anjali disappear with their customary 10 mins stop while we loiter around. Muthu and Prob also disappear into the horizon. Finally, I'm back with my roadie team.

Looking at the headwind and the flatness of the tarmac I, VDHehe, Venkat and Jothi soon form pace line allowing each of us 2 mins to come in the front and do some pulling. Throughout the pull, my thoughts were in Sri Lanka and the effort that each of the Mamils put to tackle those headwind and crosswinds whilst riding to Jaffna. It was a challenge to negotiate the winds across the peninsula that literally brought us to standstill on many occasion. It was painful. Only thing I wanted to ensure was when the pull is over by the lead rider, he had to be given a few seconds to gather and fall back at the tail of the pace line. I remember making that mistake of keeping the pace high and my brother shouting from the back asking me of slow down to allow the puller to fall back and rest for a few seconds. I did the same with Vaibhav. VDHehe was in a killing mood and he did some great pulls. It was his moment.

I think it was the 1st time we actually rode as a unit and the discipline was evident. The end result was 14 kilometers of pace line averaging around 34 kmph and that too in headwind. We soon catch up with Muthu and the machines from Pune. We join them for a long distance but slowly break away. We never saw Siva for a long time. I would have guessed him to be right in the front really going after the trucks for an effortless draft. Effortless is an understatement in his case. He can go and go on drafting for 50 kms. If there is anything he does well other descending, it has got to be his ability to draft. Those GU gels are his poison and he would go like a rocket. 

Now, tell me do I stand like Giant robot in the photo above ? I think I do after the comment one of my good friends posted on my FB page. Come on, Giant Robot ! I loved that serial as a kid. VDHehe was having his Jens Voigt moment. I take his wheel for some distance only to fall back and ride with the rest of the roadies. I wanted to take a moment of rest before the climbs which was barely 20 odd kms away. I join SAP roadies - Jothi, Venkat and Amol and Siva for the rest of the journey to Yelagiri.

I was feeling hungry and so were all of us. More than food, I would have loved to have a bottle of coke. Amol also joins us or rather I should say I join them for lunch after I experience Jens Voigt moment by Vaibhav. He disappeared ! We decide to stop at Jolarpet for a light snack. The boys go for a full course meal while I decide to eat a tiny portion and some eggs. I have my coke and then the journey begins. We soon reach the base of Yelagiri for the final pit stop and some refreshment. As always Bala Sir waves at us and was ever so happy to pour that glass full of nicely freshly made salted lemon juice. I decided to continue my journey as I wanted to be done for the day.

Venkat follows me and both of us slowly start out for that steady 11 kms long climb. It was an easy climb with hair pins coming at regular interval to give that well deserved break. Soon, Venkat falls back and I'm on my own. I pass Amol who makes a steady attempt at climbing. Once again I come across an army of monkeys and the fear of that monkey bite keeps me nervous. The final few kilometers I start thinking about VDHehe who had long ago left us at Jolarpet. I had actually expected him to reach the hotel and arrange for those beers. I look at my Garmin and figure I have barely 2 kilometers left for the summit and the poet counts now stands at 10 or 12. I find Sanjay and Anjali slowly cranking up the last kilometers and in no time find VDHehe. I was surprised to see VDHehe and catch up with him because he had disappeared quite some time ago. We both then join together for the close of the day. I was actually surprised to see him as I had then guessed him to be at the hotel. But the truth be told I was gunning for him and was in many way chasing him.

We lose of patience again to find the hotel which again the locals suggest is just 'one' kilometer away. VDHehe feels his Garmin is drunk and I think I'm now brain dead. We pass the tour truck at least few times again and again but fail to see it. Venkat joins us in the hunt for the hotel. At a junction, we decided enough is enough and that ask for direction. To our embarrassment, we were just a few blocks away. Once inside the Hotel Silent Water, all that was annoying is soon turned into excitement. We get the best accommodation of the tour and soon settle in for some Aloo Paratta and Chicken 65. I enjoy my bottle of coke meanwhile and rest go for a game of badminton and massage. 

Stage 5 is done and dusted with mind trying everything to ignore the thought of century mile ride the enxt day to Kallakurichi.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stage 3 and 4 - Roadie Furry to Hogenakal

The tour was just beginning to warm up and we are into Day 3 of the ToT. The previous evening we were all invited for dinner at a local private resort and did I eat well (?). Those kothu parottas and mutton biryani made many of us to help ourselves to several servings and licking fingers. It sort of reminded me of Sri Lanka during the Mamil tours. We would devour endless numbers of dosas served with egg on top and then those diced chicken parottas. It was yummy indeed and the ones in TN were no less yummier either. I think I do not want to see parottas for another 6 months and I'm sure my ToT mates would agree. 
Photo Credit: ToT 2013 & Nagesh

I slept well the previous night having put in a great effort to get my ass up Yercaud. It was a cold misty foggy morning with wind making it very chilly. We were briefed about the ride by Vaz and it was supposed to be a nice long descend followed by long rolling terrain for most part of the day and then great descend into Hogenakal. But the headwind made the ride very hard to negotiate. We did come across 2 long climbs of fairly long distance. The elevation profile did not speak of anything more than cumulative ascend of 700 meters for the day. The chill in the morning was way too much for me. The wind made it even worse. I was shivering down to my bones. I decided to stuff my jersey with some newspaper to create some insulation against the cold. 

We do not decend the way we came up but take another route which was equally scenic and brilliant. Confident from my previous two attempts at descending, we start our journey. The descend was long and fast one. It is kind of scary when you see all these monkeys spread everywhere from the tree tops to the middle of the road. I always had this weird fear that one of them would pounce on me and I'm gonna get a real bite. Thankfully, they would just sit by the roadside or on tree tops but some still had the audacity to stay put in the middle of the road. I wanted to take my phone out and take some photos of the hills but too scared that the phone might end up in their hand. Once I and Ancy had gone to Nandi Hills close to Bangalore on an official plus vacation trip. One monkey ripped off a packet of Lays Waffers from her hand. Since then, these little Hanumans make me nervous. Oh yes, they do have giant canines.

Photo Credit: ToT 2013 & Nagesh

Siva, as always, is hard to catch up on the downward slopes. I tried to tail him but chickened out. I'm followed by Sapeksh and Vaibhav but soon the gap widens. I get behind a bus which just wouldn't let me pass. Sapeksh sees the right moment at the hairpin to pass the bus but I'm caught behind. It takes me a little while to pass it. Tackling those hairpins were not as tiresome as it were during the Kolli Hills descend. 70 odd ones to negotiate. We soon hit the base and all of us stop by for others to catch up and of course the customer sugary cup of coffee. That one at the base had enough sugar to give me enough supply of glycogen to survive the rest of the day. Soon, the newspapers are long folded up and the temperature rises. I must however say that we did not really experience harsh heat throughout the tour. It was fairly warm but tolerable. It was dry heat unlike how it is in Bombay where it comes with high humidity and sweat factor.

Photo Credit: ToT 2013 & Nagesh

Soon the group breaks up and all the roadies form a little team of their own. We pass some local town and some pristine villages. More or less, all take it easy thinking about the long day ahead of us. During the course of the day, we encounter some harsh barren land with horizon visible all 360 degrees. The headwind was tolerable but at times it was confusing. Headwind would soon turn into tailwind and then crosswinds. The bike swayed all over the place. VDHehe was in his element throughout this day. He was very strong on those flats. I was more than happy to sit at the back of his wheel and let him do all the hard work.

We do come across some small hills and poor road but not as bad that it would bring out the Bombay boy in me. No cuss words ! We had to negotiate two climbs of fairly large distance and elevation. I manage to cut through all of them as I soon begin to realize yet again why I like to climb. I'm surely not a fast climber but I somehow like to sit there and grind my way up. I enjoyed those two climbs as it had everything from headwind to tailwinds and to crosswinds. I break away from the peloton of 7-8 riders every time the elevation profile smiles up. I was more than happy to do so. 

The rest of the day goes without much of an incident. The villagers would spead out their farm produce on the highway for the vehicles to pass over them. An ingenious way to get the end result without having to pay for it. We stopped by to get some rest as we inch closer and closer to Hogenakal. I leave my bike against a giant tree looking at a bore well to freshen up. I see two little kids using all their energy to extract some water. I too wanted to get some. It was embarrassing to say the least that no matter how much I tried my pumping, no water would flow through. 'Ah ! these city folks' I pondered. 

We were all waiting for the long descend into hogenakal. It was time to wrap up the day and look for some beers. The 'British Empire' lager helped us recover so much so that we now have a whatsapp group by the name. We stop by a large sculpted image of Ayyanar for well deserved break and of course some dry fruits energy. I decided to lookout for some of these sculptors to make my own book of Ayyanars. I always wanted to stop by and take some photos but, damn it, if I do so, then I lose the wheels of other roadies. Why can't they just take it easy once in a while. For god sake, we just climbed 2800 meters over the past two days !

Photo Credit: ToT 2013 & Nagesh

These things are so colorful and expressive. Nearly all had very big eyes and those typical of handlebar moustache. I somehow cannot recollect seeing any female Ayyanars. Do they even exist ? I guess these village protectors are also sometimes called 'Chami'. I think there is no 'Swa' in Tamil hence it is pronounced as 'Chami". They had so much anger that it felt as if they are gonna burn every ass that comes it way. The effort gone into making them exuberant is worth every appreciation in the world. My facebook update was something like this - 'That's the anger I had on my face on every single climb today'. I was loving it today.

Soon, we approached the final descend. We all had a go at it. It was long descend with very wide roads and great view of the surrounding landscape. Some riders stopped at the highest point to shoot videos of roadies coming down. I gave my all to look at 'pro' as possible. Haha ! Sapeksh could have very well applied for a job with a local circus company. He was shooting a video on his mobile with only a hand to tackle the fast descend. Crazy ! But the video came out very well so I'm not complaining.

We reach Hotel Tamil Nadu at around 4:00 pm and soon settle down to take rest. Later in the evening, Siva, Amol, Venkat, Jothi, VDHehe and I decide to go for a little stroll around the town. Hogenakal is known to have a great waterfall with little or no drastic human intervention. It did have a fair amount of tourist walking around with their belly nicely oiled and so proudly lifted. It showed every sign of prosperity that the new Indian middle class is now known for. We had some fried fish in the middle of an all-out attack by mosquitoes. The town sounded of prayers at dawn and dusk which is very typical of Tamil Nadu. Singers yell and scream the names of their beloved god as if apocalypse is just few meters away from them. VDhehe found it amusing and at times irritating but the South Indian in me loved it. 

Day 4 was a rest day for many of us. My knees were perfectly alright but a day of rest would have made it even better. Some guys go for a local loop ride whilst others go the water fall. I think I missed it and now I regret not going after looking at all the photos coming out now that the tour is over. Sometimes its good to forget the aero position and gradients and blend in with folks who come out for that extra bit of fun that comes outside of high cadence ride. I spend my Day 4 doing some minor maintenance work on my bike and some usual chit chat. ToT is going strong.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Stage 2: Lonely ride, Descending kolli and Ascending Yercaud, 136 kms

Ha ! the devil that kolli hill was the previous day was settled with one of my best attempts at descending. Descends have never been my strength but I was determined not to be bogged down by the disappointment the previous day. I woke up with a positive frame of mind to use all my skills and experience. I was determined to tackle the rest of the tour. I wanted to get the Day 1 Monkey off my back as soon as possible. The previous evening, Vaz gave us a brief idea of what lies ahead of us on Stage 2. Little did he give us any hint that we are in for some shocker of a climb the following day. I never ever imagined that ToT will soon be one of the toughest tour I have ever done. It would soon prove to be harder than of all TfNs I have done over the past 5 years. I had to use all my experience of Mamil tour's in Sri Lanka.

The knee pain had subsided very much and I was feeling perfectly alright. We had a hearty breakfast following which everyone assembled for the flag off. The ride started off with hard climb of about 2 kms with gradients frequently hitting the high 7-9%. I was one of the last few riders to leave the hotel.  VDHehe decided not to descend the hills that day for reasons only he knows. It would have been one of his first attempts at descending anything other than the local slopes in Bombay. He decides to take the float while I decide to descend. I wanted it badly largely because I had a bad day the day before. I quickly pass many riders and find myself alone. I tackle all 70 hairpins with ease and also give my best attempt to cut corners. Whilst descending I make every attempt to keep my fingers off the brake levers and use them at right places at the right time and well before the turns. I loved every moment of it. I felt confident. I tackle gravel with ease keeping the bike steady and but keeping my body a little loose and not stiff like I usually do. 

I was one of the first riders to hit the base. I soon find Trainer VDHehe waiting for his bike to come in one of the support vehicles. Soon Muthu arrives with another rider whose name I cannot figure. He had his sun glasses on even in pitch darkness. I had my share of shouts and yells for a sprint race with him just to make it exciting. He was a strong rider though. On a lighter note, I thought he descended well throughout as he kept tailing me all the way from the summit right till the base. He later mentioned it was his first attempts at descending and that tailing me was fun. I'm sure it was because I thought I gave my best ever that day. As I hit the base I had a big smile on my face for all the confidence I had negotiating those curves at crazy speed. I wait with VDHehe but he suggests that I continue with my ride and not wait for the bike to arrive. I continued.

At about 50 kms into the ride I pass nearly all who had passed me while I was waiting with Trainer. I pass the spot where we had stopped for a drink the previous day. I passed Sanjay and Anjali and later Muthu. We greet each other at the 1st pit stop. I ride with Sanjay and Anjali for a while tailing them and some times them tailing me. Anjali for me was a top class rider. On the 3rd and last day I rode with them for quite a while. She could just sit there and pedal. Between 50 - 60th kilometer, I thought I saw heaven. I had to stop to take some photos (attached them below). It looked so surreal with the sun light breaking through the cloud cover and Kolli Hills in the background looking stunning. My thoughts kept pondering why despite all talks of illiteracy and apparently un-civilized non-modern way of life in these villages people remain keep their surrounding so free of rubbish and waste. I have never seen roads so kept clean and village boundaries  so pristine and well maintained. 

My knees were feeling brilliant and worries I had the previous day was long gone. I continue my ride for another 10 kms. Soon I'm to figure if knees were an issue the previous day, then going ahead for the rest of the tour, it will be my poor map reading skills. It was so simple to understand but it did throw some surprises. I screamed all kind of fancy words and showered them on everyone right from ToT mechanic, to support staff to tour director. I kept asking what on earth would have happened had they mark the roads for turns. I start my extra-mile a day journey which will become a routine. 

Keeping a firm face and nearly talking to myself I cheer all the kids I pass in tiny villages and take encouragement from them. It intrigued me as everyone wanted to know whether it is was a race. That kept asking 'race aa?'. I would just nod back with a smile. In no time I find a batch of school kids on roadster. They join me for good one kilometer yelling, cheering and shouting in excitement. I let them pull me for a kilometer and we form a good peloton of 10-12 cyclists. I smiled at their happiness and excitement. I wanted to join them in their happiness. Life is so simple. We city folks so adore their lifestyle as they adore our's. Nothing satisfies us and our selfishness is endless. I say bye to their cheers and continue my journey.

At that point I kept convincing myself with the reasons why I left financial market as an analyst. I do not regret that decision to leave the stock indices behind for good and selfishness that controls it. I started thinking about my new life as a teacher and limited market participant as an investor and advisor to some very personal clients. I have found a balance in life. The bank balance do multiply as it did before but now I get to sleep. No one calls me in the middle of night from the Gulf to ask for stock tips. I'm never worried about my client portfolio tanking. My worries are now shared well between me and my investor clients. With this thought I was convinced life is beautiful. It is now 68 kms and I take this magnificent piece of earthly art.

I soon complete the village road and hit the national highway. The village sound disappeared and now I was surrounded by fast moving vehicles. I'm 75 kms into my ride inching closer and closer to Yercaud. Then, there it is ! A slow puncture ! I quickly get off the saddle with a little worry because my frame pump was not that good. I knew I was way ahead of others and it will be some time before support arrives. I quickly change the tube and slowly start pumping air. The pump has spoiled the presta valve several times before so I was little apprehensive of getting the right PSI with force. I decided to wait for help while I chew on my packet of dry fruits. I knew Muthu is behind and so is Sanjay and Anjali and that help will soon arrive.

Waiting for about 30 odd mins I finally see Sanjay and Anjali. I ask them for the pump but sadly they say negative. Sanjay was kind enough to give the valve adaptor which he suggests I use at the local tyre puncture shop. I find one at close distance and ask for pump. The mechanic there look confused. He could fix only motor flats. I wait for 10 mins and then Ayyanar shows up in the form of two riders returning from a 200 BRM. Venkatesh Duraiswamy, one of the BRM riders, stop by seeing me in the repair shop. They were not part of the ToT. They stopped to help me. They even take the pain of filling air in my tube. We greet each other. I thank them for their help.

Now, good 45 mins have gone and finally I'm back on the saddle. I continue my journey and now have to look for a place called Ayodhyapattinam. The ride briefing spoke of a fork junction and then a right turn. Never in my thought I would have guessed that right turn to be an ordinary one typical of a village road so hidden. I missed it. I continue riding on the highway expecting the right turn to show up but it never did. I sense trouble as Salem appeared getting closer and closer.  I remembered from the briefing that we are not to go anywhere close to Salem but to stay on that highway. I figure at the restaurant that I'm 40 odd kms from Salem. I tell myself reaching Salem would have meant me packing my bike and heading home. I was angry.

I stop at a local restaurant by the roadside and ask for directions. I figured I'm good 5 kms off the right turn which I was supposed to take. Now, I got to ride 5 kms back with madness of a headwind still not knowing where the turn is. 10 kms added to my day. A local villager shows me the road but I'm unconvinced. It cannot be that kind of road. I wait the fork junction for 10-15 mins for someone to turn up. No one did. I take the gamble and continue as the villager suggested. I soon find Siva, Jothi, Sapeksh, Venkat all on my tail. I get a sense of relief. It is now more than an hour of ridiculous waits and wrongful direction. 

I had kind of lost all interest in the day ahead. I wanted to finish the day. Finally, VDHehe and me reach the foot hill of Yercaud. Bhaskar and Sapeksh is ahead of us. I started my climb with them. I see the sign board put up by Team Mongrels inviting ToT for a stop over. I feel good on the climb, as always and soon pass VDHehe, Sapeksh and Bhaskar. I'm nearly 10 kms in the climb with my mind tired. I soon pass Mr. Sunglasses and after a while I get yelled over by some guys saying "pambu'. It meant snake ! I was so tired and disinterested with the ride that I did not see the snake. I turn my head to see and there it is ! A snake all coiled up and in attacking position.

I was totally disinterested and continued. The climbing continues and I finally reach the pit stop set up by Team Mongrel. I have paneer sandwich and water. I ask them about the distance left. I get told 11 kms. I exchange my greetings and continue after 10 mins break. The shocker of a climb is yet to come. Its shame no one bothered to take a photo of that 2 kms long zig zag monster of a climb. I could manage only a few meters and then I find myself to have almost zero cadence. I put my foot down. I decide to walk the distance. I could see Muthu following me. He too tries his best to climb but falls off his saddle. He walks a fair distance. The entire kilometer or two long climb at minimum gradient of 10% or more and at a fair distance at over and above 15-16%. I have never climbed that gradient before. I do not regret putting my foot down.

Once the hard part was done, more correctly, walked, we get back on the saddle for the rest of the climb. Muthu and I chase each other for 7 odd kms to Hotel Tamil Nadu which was by the lake side. We ask for directions and get told kilometer to eternity. During the course of the tour, I make a decision to go and check the state's school books on distance. Any attempt to ask for distance and direction gets a standard reply. It is 'one kilometer' and that 'one' kilometer is indefinite and infinite. It is now around 5 pm. We have finally reached the hotel. I see Sanjay and Anjali very close to the hotel eating or drinking something. I wave my hand and continue. I'm closely followed by Muthu. Destination is reached.

Stage 2 is 140 kms long (128 kms as per the ride docket) with 1833 meters of climb which is good 450 meters more than what was planned for the stage. Thanks to my detour and all the to's & fro's I did to find my way. Stage 3 is all fun and roadie fury ! Guess what ? I sleep tight and about my knee pain (?). Well, it is all gone.

The link to Stage 2 ride - http://www.strava.com/activities/102774659

The link to Stage 1 ride - http://www.strava.com/activities/102774660

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

ToT Stage 1: The Flag off, Elaneer, Knee Pain, Kolli Hills and 132 kms

The tour is about to begin. The hard work over the past 3 months will finally come out with its verdict – Am I fit enough to be riding the ToT ? Two days prior to the tour all felt good and healthy. The legs had over 12 metric centuries to boast of and some very hard ones going up the Kharghar Hills.

Everything fell apart in the evening 3 days prior to the departure date when I nearly slipped and hit my knee on the sofa. I have my cats – Dupli & Dukli to thank for that. At that point I figured what they meant by the phrase “billi ne rasta kat diya”. I tried to avoid stepping on Dupli, the adorable cat, but in doing so I end up with my left knee hitting the sofa arm rest. Over the next two days the pain get worse as I feared it might come to haunt me over the next 10 days or so. I sent a text message to Trainer VDHehe telling him about the exuberating pain in my left knee. He suggested that I buy the crepe band. I did so and thankfully the pain subsided by the day of departure.

Tour of Tamil Nadu is now go on the 22nd of December. All the riders assembled for the flagging off ceremony which was done by the district collector. 

We were all set to start the tour. The day’s goodie bag included dry fruits of every kind, Gatorade, cereal energy bars and Enerzal powder. I started off the tour with just a sweet pain which slowly vanished as the legs got warmer and the mind very busy with all the chit chats and greets.  ToT surprised us by giving us high quality hydration water pack, puncture kit, frame pump and head lights sponsored by Fuji and Pro-Bikers of Chennai.

We leave the hotel at 8:00 am. Surprisingly, it did not feel hot at all which indeed was my prime concern for the tour. I had experienced the Jaffna heat early this year and kind of expected the same. Oh boy, did it burn ? Initially, it was I and Trainer who would be ride buddies but quickly the peloton fell apart and I found myself all by myself. I rode along River Cauvery and went past some very beautiful villages and those typical conical shaped temples of Tamil Nadu.

 It amused me endlessly to see those very angry deities armed with all kind of weapons at every village or farm boundary wall. They had so much anger in their protruding eyes and tongue hanging out as if the great goddess kali have possessed them, I figure later through some of my friends that they are called Ayyanars. I would come across many over the next few days. From my friends, I also figure that they are meant to be protector of villages and their ever-so-precious wealth in the form of farm produce.

In no time, I started passing all the MTBers and for some reasons I find VDHehe missing in all the action. I continue riding along the river only to find myself right in the front. One interesting thing about the ToT was the organizer’s firm belief in not marking roads with paint, unlike TfN. I tried to fall back and join the rest as I did not want to get lost on the 1st day itself. Ironically, I get tagged later as the ‘rider who rode 5-10 kms extra daily’. The ride docket had all information on the ride distance, elevation profile shown in percentages to show how much of the climbs have been covered and also the turns we need to take. I tied to make sense of the ride docket. 

Finally, I catch up with Venkat and Jothi who were the lead riders. I join them as the 3rd rider but vary of doing any pace lines with them as I did not know their riding skills and abilities. How would I have guessed at that point that they would soon be my rider partners for the rest of the tour ? I am known to be a poor starter during a tour like TfN or ToT. Soon, it became apparent that all roadies have now formed the pack and we all assembled on the bridge that took us to the other side of Cauvery. We stop to take photos.

I find VDHehe show up with Muthu, Siva  and the rest. The pace slowly picks up and it now becomes apparent that there will be some fast riding. The pain in my knee is now showing signs of a come back. I drop my chain to easier gears as I did not want to aggravate it with fast pace ride.

Distance crumbles under our pedal strokes. We hit a bad patch of road and it continues for good 10 odd kms. My knee start showing unease and the pain is back. I continue riding but start worrying as we get closer and closer to our destination – Kolli Hills. I figure from the ride docket that it will be 22 kms long climb with an average gradient of 4.3% and 70 hair pins. The bounces off the road begin to hurt. We stop at a village looking for some coconut water – called ‘elaneer’ in local language. We ride a kilometer or more looking for some. We have taken a kilometer long detour. It is now around 2pm and everyone starts asking for food. I start asking for elaneer on the pretext of taking some rest for my knee.

We stop by a village. The view of the mountain ahead of us was just too beautiful to ignore. We stop by to take some photos. 

As we were about to start, VDHehe shows up finally. He had a flat and that kept him way behind us. We take turns to motivate each other to bring us to the base of Kolli Hills. By this time, I knew I will have a tough climb ahead of me. My knee was hurting a lot. The Chennai boys stop by to eat dosas and are soon joined by one and all. I and VDHehe decide not to eat and eat bananas and drink lemon water. The salted lemon juice was a relief to have.

I was one of the first to leave the base to hit the summit. I start my journey along with Bhaskar. The first 10 kms go without any incident and surprisingly the pain vanishes. 70 odd hairpin bend works as a mind game. I continue my climb with a good pace and I soon find myself climbing at ease. 12 kms are gone and I look down to see how much I have climbed. The garmin shows about 900 odd meters. Feeling confident and the eagerness to finish the day, I get out of my saddle to tackle some tough gradient over 8-9% and hairpins which were at very close proximity. I think it should not have been done.

Within another 1-2 kms into the climb following the out of the saddle sprint, I suddenly sense a sharp pain under my left knee cap as if someone has thrusted a blunted object. I nearly fall off my bike as I could not pedal anymore and the pace drops. I naturally un-cleat my left shoes first and this time I could not do it as my left knee was completely wrecked. I un-cleat my right shoes and come off the bike. I was worried all of a sudden. No way, I wanted to the tour to go bad for me on day one itself. I wait for a few minutes too find Bhaskar coming up and then Trainer VDHehe.

Both of them pass me and I could hear VDHehe shouting at me for stopping. I tell him about the pain but he yells back saying if I continue waiting there I might very well wait in the same spot for the rest of the evening. I gather some courage and sit on the saddle. I somehow pedal for a kilometer and look at my garmin. I see I have 5-6 kms more to go. I hear grunts and scream by VDHehe in the distance. I then find him stopping and I ask him what the matter is. He just nods and continues to climb. Seeing him stop, I too get tempted to stop, which I did. I feel thirsty but I have no water. I forgot to refill my water bottle at the base. Ayyanar, the village protector is not happy with me. Everything is falling apart.

Bhaskar sensing I need help stops and offers me some water. I tell him about the pain. Being a physio himself, he helps me with the cramp which started appearing around my left knee. He makes me do some stretch which really worked. I now look at both of them for inspiration. I hear VDhehe grunting again. I start the climb and start talking to myself. My garmin now shows 10 kms to destiny and 2 odd kms to the summit. I gather some strength and reach the summit. On the summit I’m greeted by long 2-3 kms long descent and the around 2 kms long climb with average gradient of over 8%. I just wanted to finish my day, gulps my saliva, abuses Ayyanar and spins my way up. I felt very glad that I have made it up and more glad that VDHehe pulled me up. His grunts pulled me up. Bhaskar’s offer of water pulled me up.

I felt proud that Trainer has dropped me on the climb. He gave me 9 mins on the climb. I find him at the entrance of the hotel. I hug him and wish him on his great climb. The lad who started riding a decent bike just 6 months ago set the best time on HC climb. He had tears in his eyes. He breaks down. I would tell him to sit and watch me climb Kharghar. I would tell him to watch me climb NH8 and Godbhunder. He would get dropped in matter of seconds in Bombay. I felt he couldn’t climb.

Not now though. He delivered where it mattered the most. I knew at that very moment that Trainer has come of age and he is no longer the guy who would cut short his ride on the NH8 every time we rode together with other Bombay lads. He couldn’t keep pace with us on his BSA. We would disappear into the horizon and turn back to catch up with him. He would turn back earlier. He nailed the Kolli Hills and left his mark there. It is now on record that he gave me 9 mins on a HC climb.

The facebook update that evening read something like this on my wall – ‘Dandekar Vaibhav leaves his mark on Kolli Hills. He is the man’. Good work there my friend. And how does it go for me after that ? I have the best tour of my life. The knee pain will eventually go away and I’m on my way up. No gradient mattered to me anymore. I cracked one and all.

ToT is ON.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tour of Tamil Nadu 2013, Embarking to Trichy on Day 0.

Facebook ! what is life without "FB" these days, a place where you are most likely to meet friends (and some wanna-be's) who have long gone from our lives as we add another year to our life. The status message on my FB page on the 21st December 2013 read something like this - "Good night folks ! When some of you guys wake up to go to work on a Saturday morning tomorrow I'm gonna be sitting in Trichy assembling my bike for the Tour of Tamil Nadu, 1000 kms + in 8 days. Have a great weekend !" I was excited.

I waited at the airport for my training buddy, henceforth he will be referred to as Trainer, Vaibhav Dandekar. It was hard 6 months of training which included close to 3 full months of trainer miles owing to monsoon in Bombay and then very unsystematic intervals and endurance workout. Trainer VDHehe worked dedicatedly on the trainer program which I had used for the UWCI race in Sri Lanka. I followed it for a month and then had to abandon it due to whole lot of travel which included a trip to Kerala and Bhutan. After the 1st month - October, I decided to work more on the endurance than speed and intervals as ToT was never meant to be a race and more of an endurance ride of more than 100 kms almost everyday. 

We had limited place to train in Bombay for many reasons - some just obvious. I loved the NH8 but detested going there through the Western Express Highway. I never came back home happy every time I took my bike there but nevertheless those long rides did do some good in terms of fun. Trainer and I would go to Kharghar Hills despite the odds of having very poor road there. Over the 3 months prior to the tour, I rode 100 kms on every given occasion. In no time, i was getting closer and closer to the 10,000 kms of mileage I had planned for the calender year. The apprehension were always there knowing fully that I have gotten closer to 10k kms but fell shy by a small margin. I may be the only one of all my cycling friends who never ever had 10k kms to my credit. My brother have had 10,000 miles, forget kilometers, for the past 4 year. Trainer and I had the miles to talk of but never the elevation profile. The less is said of 'so-called climbs' here, the better. It is an embarrassment to even talk about it. I have 2 - very short 1.5 kms long climb on the JVLR close to my house which averages around 3.5% gradient. I would sit and climb it. JVLR has been my hill training and I for one will always look at it with roadie love for climbs. I trained on it again, again and again.

The time is 6:00 am on the 21st and we have an early morning flight to catch to Trichy via Chennai. I meet trainer at the airport and there we are standing in queue with our over sized luggage. We check-in with small hiccup. Trainer had an expensive bottle of degreaser. He had to leave it at the airport for his wife to pick it up.
We sit in the aircraft with our Iphones glued to the ears. He tried to drop me with AC/DC and I repeatedly tried (also succeeded) to drop him with Pink Floyd and Metallica. Trainer was pretty amused to see my Iphone casing which I had so loving purchased to secure my device. It was disgraceful so to say that I had a Samsung cover for an Iphone. So much for my dislike for Samsung and that oh-so-ugly whistling ring tone it comes with. We reach Trichy airport on time and then prepare to collect our bikes. Co-incidentally we meet Sapeksh who flew in from Delhi but took the same flight as we did from Chennai. We see another bike case and knew someone has come over for the ToT. We immediately greet each other and that friendship will soon become strong that 3 of us along with other three riders Bangalore soon form a team that will bond together for the rest of the tour. 

On reaching Hotel Tamil Nadu, our host at most of the places we will soon visit, we meet Vasanth (Vaz) and the rest of the gang from ToT core team. We meet Suresh who provided all the help needed for bike maintenance. Suresh is gem of person we met on the tour though I knew who he was. I figure he happens to be a bike dealer and fellow biker. I have had him as friends on FB initially but later removed him and nearly everyone from my friends list as I want to purge many I do not know or have met personally. There are too many waiting to be friends just because we all enjoy the saddle and soreness on the bum. I made him a follower initially but now very happy to add him as friends again. He was great to talk with and very soft spoken person. Good to have good friends again.

Trainer and I get to our rooms after a hearty meal which included Pepper Chicken and Egg Fried Rice. We quickly set up our bikes for the tour and then go down to meet our fellow riders. I would be BSing if I say I was confident of this tour. There was never any kind of updates on the recce or any information on the tour. Both of us were very apprehensive till we go to meet Vaz. We were very surprised to see efficiency with which they were sorting all the logistics, rider cards and all other goodies which would later be distributed to us. I was very happy to see the rider dockets prepared with so much relevant and useful information that the first hint of apprehension was beginning to disappear. 

We were feeling more and more confident of the tour and felt very good about it. Later in the evening we are briefed of what lies ahead of us for the next 8 days - the day profile on elevation and destination. On the seeing the ride info it still did not sync in that this tour is going to be 'the best' biking tour I have ever done in India. It did not throw any surprises at that point in time. It is only later that we figure that we are in for some tuff days ahead and some ridiculously beautiful places in Tamil Nadu. It was just surreal. Vaz was a delight to hear with his ever-so calm way of presenting the day ahead to us. His words never at any one moment had any word of caution or doubt. He gave us very good description of the route right from distance, what to watch out for and the elevation profile. Elevation part was a little discrete on every briefing but when the moment came to experience the gradient, it was filled by surprises and awe. The tour was tuff and we had no sense of it till we started the day.

It is now the 22nd of December and 6:00am in the morning. The alarm rings and there we go again. The Tour of Tamil Nadu is about to begin. We have breakfast, the bikes comes out of our rooms and we all assemble. The thought process now go into nostalgia as I gather the happenings of the days and moment. Let the wheels roll and ToT is all go.