Archive for August, 2010

Cruise to the coast

For a while now, I had wanted to do a weekend cycling trip. Although we haven’t done any regular cycling in five months now, even before that, riding through the back roads of Sarjapur/Hosur road every Sunday was getting a bit tedious. So I had been following a couple of companies who do organized weekend trips in various parts of Karnataka and Kerala, through forests, hills and such other soothing scenery. These usually start on Friday night and end late on Sunday night, so we would have to leave the kids with extended family. And since there would be school next day, it would have to be on a long weekend where the Monday was a holiday. Luckily one such opportunity came up last weekend. Monday was a holiday for Onam, so we chose to cruise to the coast with Cycling and More. PK, me and a friend signed up.

But before that wonderful trip, there was a harrowing misadventure. The pick-up location for these rides is a common point near the heart of the city. We had opted to take our own bikes instead of renting (it is hard to find good rental bikes, especially for women, height is an issue). This meant that we had to find a way to transport our bikes from home to the pick-up point. We called around for luggage autos/tempos, but without luck. It was Varamahalakshmi festival and no one would come. So, around 7 pm, the three of us started pedaling in the dark. None of us had experience riding in the night or riding in the city. It was all a terrible combination of conditions – peak Friday evening traffic, semi-lit to completely dark roads and inexperienced riders for those conditions. For a minute I wondered what I had been thinking to even attempt this. After a nerve-wracking 1.5 hrs, we reached the pick-up point. I was already wondering how we would get back home after the ride.

The overnight bus journey to Bhagamandala was uneventful. As with most Indian roads, it was a very bumpy road, so we couldn’t really sleep. We reached around 5 am and checked into the KSTDC hotel at the base of Talakaveri. It was simple and clean accommodation. After a nice hot shower, felt refreshed. There was an optional “expert riders” ride to the top of Talakaveri (8 km uphill). I obviously sat that one out. PK went and turned around after 4 km. Breakfast was ready around 7.45 – Idli, vada, coffee. We started on the trail around 8.30 am. Initially, it felt good to be back on the bicycle after a long break. The scenery was mostly lush green mountains with low hanging clouds. The terrain was mostly rolling hills and so it wasn’t easy or anything. After about 10 km or so, it turned to be mostly downhill for the next 15 kms. But the road was a bit wet and slippery, so at least I was afraid to completely let go. I constantly had my hands on the brakes. Also, the road was extremely bumpy, so despite having shock absorbers my whole body was shaking the entire time I was on the cycle during this stretch. We did take a few breaks since there were almost 10 or so waterfalls right by the road side, each more beautiful than the other. Towards the end of this downhill stretch, on one of the several hairpin bends, our friend took a nasty fall. He hurt both his palms, a cheek and chin. He was bleeding profusely and it took a while to stop. Luckily PK had cotton, dettol and lots of band-aids and was very useful for the several people who fell in that stretch. When we were done with this long down hill stretch, my biceps, shoulders and neck were hurting from the vibrations of the bumpy road. Once we were down all the way and crossed into Kerala, it got pretty warm and humid. Legs were tired, and it was drizzling off and on. Quite a few were getting off and walking their bikes on the uphills. I was determined not to and kept pedaling. But at some point, walking is as fast as pedaling on those slopes, but with less effort, so may be those heroics weren’t worth it after all. The support vehicle passed us and everyone who was behind us had got on to it, so effectively, we were the last ones among the ones still riding. They said another 3 km more to the lunch point and we pedaled on. Was so glad to reach the lunch point, it must have been around 1.30 pm or so. Most people had finished eating and we also finished up hurriedly.

At that point, we were told that about 10 or so (I guess the slowest and least energetic) were planning to ride the support vehicle. The others who intended to cycle all the way had already left before we even started lunch. And we were under pressure to reach Bekal fort before 4.30 pm since that would be the last allowed entry. It didn’t look like we could make that 35 km in less than 2.5 hrs. So we decided to get on the vehicle also, although neither of us were proud of it, I was secretly glad that I could rest my weary body. PK called it the “ride of shame”. It turned out it was the right choice. The drizzle turned into steady rain and the last 10 km or so before Bekal fort was on a highway with heavy traffic, so it didn’t look like an enjoyable ride.

Bekal Fort is a beautiful and relatively unknown place. Apparently main Bollywood songs are shot here. The sea, the beaches and everything was enchanting. But we had to see all this in the rain, so I couldn’t really take any pictures. Would be nice to take the kids there one day. Initially, we had thought that we would cycle the last stretch from Bekal to Kasargod, but the rain was so bad by now that another 10 more got into the vehicle. So the support vehicle made multiple trips on that last 15 km. First the cyclists were dropped off and then they came back for the bicycles. Only about 10 or so very experienced riders rode this last stretch. The hotel in Kasargod was decent (actually, above my expectations but I have very low expectations, especially in small towns). I had to plead hard for hot water because they apparently use solar and considering the weather, there was no hope. After much convincing, he provided about 6 of us or so, a bucket of hot water each. The hot shower was good after the very long 24 hrs!

Day 2

The trip director woke everyone at 5 am, knocking on each of our doors. We were ready and down by 6 am. We started our ride with about three other guys, at around 6.30 am, since we wanted a head start compared to those expert riders, who were not even down yet. The early morning ride was good. The terrain was gentle ups and downs with a few sustained uphills. Around 7.15 or so, we stopped at a roadside tea stall but the coffee and tea were pathetic. We poured those down a gutter and settled for 3 to 4 bananas each. By 8 or so, we reached the designated breakfast point and few others had also come by now. There was no sign of the support vehicle, and we could see an uphill stretch, so everyone felt that it was better to keep going instead of waiting there, since this stretch would be difficult to do after breakfast. Breakfast or not, this stretch was very difficult anyway. Today I didn’t have any qualms about walking my bike a little if I had to, so that’s exactly what I did here. After 3 km or so, the slopes become bearable again and we stopped here. By the time breakfast came to us (8.30 am or so), people had eaten up all the vadas and only idlis were left. There were gentle curses being thrown around by some of the more vocal ones, for those who had devoured more than one vada. I don’t know if it was because we were very hungry, breakfast tasted really yummy, especially the sambar – this coming from me, someone who is not at all a fan of idlis. The ride from here was again rolling hills. Today we were determined to do the entire stretch. PK was riding ahead of me most of the way. I guess he had some new-found resolve and energy. There was a beautiful 6 km downhill full of hairpin bends, which was a lot more enjoyable than the previous day because these roads were smooth, dry and wider. There was one viewpoint where 15 of us had congregated and took some group pictures there. This road reminded us of some roads in White Mountains in New Hampshire – the sound of river flowing near by, birds singing and thick green forest on both sides. The milestone markers kept showing us the remaining distance to Jalsoor. Soon we were in the single digits. About 6 kms or so before Jalsoor, there was a beautiful stream where we spent a lot of time. It was only around 11.15 or so and we were not due back at the end point before 12.30. We took off our shoes and rested our feet, chatted, took pictures and hung out. Some good friendships had formed. The last 6 kms was an uneventful ride. We were the last 5 or 6 to reach. We took off our helmets, gloves and put our luggage on the bus and just joined the rest of the crowd who was chatting.

We were figuring we were ready to leave when the trip director V, noticed one person was missing. No one remembered seeing him and I didn’t even know that name. V called his cell and apparently the guy had a flat and was walking his bicycle. He already had walked 6 kms and was 6 away from the destination! They went in an autorickshaw and brought him back. That was a sort of lesson to me to at least ride with a one or two others who are aware whether you are ahead or behind. There were few stretches where many of us were alone, but not for more than 3 to 4 kms I think. Either we would end up catching up with someone or someone would catch up with us. (I was also wondering if the gentle curses thrown around at breakfast time had come true and asked him how many vadas he had eaten at breakfast. This was a recurring theme as a joke throughout the bus ride back).

Anyway, around 1 pm or a bit later we left Jalsoor and reached Sulya (~10 km) and stopped in a restaurant for lunch. It was the slowest service I have seen. The guy seemed overwhelmed that ~35 people descended suddenly at lunch time. I don’t know if they see that much business even in a week in some of these parts. Lunch was a totally forgettable affair, but the socializing with the rest of the riders was good. We left after lunch at around 3 pm. There was one stop at 6.45 pm in a CCD on the way. We had good coffee and picked up some sandwiches to eat later since there wasn’t going to be a dinner stop (which was a wise decision if we had to reach Bangalore before mid-night). We were back at the Hockey stadium around 11.15 pm and it was pouring. We were running from pillar to post to figure out how to reach home and what to do with the bikes. Luckily another couple from Whitefield had arranged for a tempo and they transported our bikes till our doorstep and we took a cab home. They were really our saviors that night.

Overall, we really enjoyed the trip even though we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t do the ride completely (even though that was not a fair expectation of ourselves since we are out of shape and have had no cycling practice in 6 months now, but who says expectations have to be fair or logical). It was organized very well – clean and simple accommodations, decent food and the bike transportation logistics were covered very well. And it was great value for money, the trips are priced very economically. Would love to do another one sometime.

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