“On your mark”
“Click click click…” sound of the cleats locking the pedal
Rush of cyclists on either side of you, inviting you with their great enthusiasm and energy, marked the beginning of the third Tour Of Karnataka, in short ToK. Over 30 enthusiastic cyclists and the support staff headed to enjoy a meticulously planned trip. On the first day lazy sun trying to break the chill of the winter morning, witnessed us with beautiful golden rays. Every one with their fresh leg made a high energy start.
Hassan marked the beginning of the ToK and we had assembled at the start point on time. Participants with varying cycling experience were busy inflating their tyres, checking for the last minute errors in their bikes, filling hydration packs and organising energy bars. Veteran cyclists were points of reference for other enthusiasts. Chethan was quick to guide every one to the start line for scheduled 6:30 beginning. He gave a fantastic brief with emphasis on the route and discipline to be inculcated during the ride. Made every possible references to the cue sheet. We were heading to Shimoga via Halebeedu, Banavara covering 154 kilometres marking the end of day one. The chequered flag started waving and the hurrah was aloud and the gush of cyclists drew many eyeballs.
At this stage it is important to listen to the brief with cue cards in hand. Listen to the check points, points where breakfast and lunches are served. Check if the cycle is inflated correctly, take help from experts if needed, check for breaks and light. Support staff is highly educated in this. Fill your hydration packs and eatables. Do adequate warm-ups and try to be calm.
I wanted to be part of ToK from the first event itself. However for different reasons I had excused myself. At the announcement of ToK, I confirmed my participation and captivated every cycling opportunity then onward. Apart from the casual runs and commute to office, I didn’t do any physical activity. To test the mettle of cycling, I did two rides of approximately 100 kms distance. I had finished these two rides about two weeks before the start of the ride. Then I was running maximum of 5 kms a day. Rested pretty well before the tour and encouraged myself. I had an advantage of knowing the route and places pretty well, specially from second day.
ToK third edition was totalling about 530 kms of ride starting at Hassan and ending at Karwar. In between we would cover Shimoga, Sirsi and Ganeshgudi. Chethan and team had done a fantastic planning of the route and we had pretty good challenge laid out before us. Hot breakfast and lunch served at the designated place with enough liquids. Every day the ride would start at 6:30 and end at 5:30 pm. Any rider could opt out for the day and boarded the support vehicle. Well planned breakfast and lunch were made available at adequate distances. There were special King of Mile – KOM and Queen of Mile – QOM every day. Apart from these genius high energy riders, cyclists would naturally fall into fast riders to easy goers.
On the first day, I was yet to feel the riders and their enthusiasms. Sun had beautifully painted every dot in shimmering gold colour blissfully. A steady climb had let me go easy. I watched few cycle past me and I did ride past some. Some was riding with speakers and I enjoyed the stream of Pink Floyd. After a while, I could hear “Hey Prashant…” and sound of cyclists zipping past me. It gave me a feel of few cormorants flying past in a hurry. It was Chethan, Madhu & co (popular as gang of bullets in this trip) who became invisible in no time.
They were cycling in a rhythm and the white socks gave some clue about their cadence. They seemed as if intended to finish the ride by noon. I soon slipped into the mood to photograph and was compiling some images in my mind. I could capture few riders in this frame.
Our breakfast point was at Maladevihalli bus stop, about 45 kms from the start point. It arrived almost at a point when I was feeling hungry. When I reached the point I lost my mind and applied breaks without getting the feet out of cleats. I realized that there was something wrong in the way I stopped as I could not reach the ground. Then next thing that I remember is tip of the handle bar testing the chest bone. This was the most painful thing that I had ever experienced in my life. I slowly felt that I should sleep somewhere. All the fellow riders were rushing to help me. Nani, my nephew, was at unease and heard him asking what happened. I just realised that I am close to the road and walked behind the vehicle. The pain was winning over me and I waded through my pain into the bus shelter. I got a nice bench there and lied down. I felt some cool water being thrown on my face. Someone helping me with the fan. It took a while for me to smile. I saw Vidya applying something to the wound on the knee. Chethan seemed worried and I was assuring myself not to resign. Some nice electral was offered taste of it made me to drink more of it. Already fellow cyclists were re-assuring me and told that they have fallen four to five times with cleats on! I was like I am still at one. Everyone kindly asked if I wanted to get off the ride for the day I was quick to respond that I am riding. My point here was that if I don’t ride then I am surrendering and I am not one. Shashank kindly agreed to accompany me through rest of the ride. He had bluetooth speakers on his cycle and was playing songs. In this trip this was second such experience and was finding it unique. It was juxtaposing as on one side we tend to reduce every bit on the bicycle. He received umpteen calls during the ride and was answering them very calmly in that hot sun. We rode till the lunch point along with Deepika and Jayasimha.
There was hardly any shade till lunch point. Large fields on either sides of the road made it look intimidating. Sometimes the passerby people would ask “Yellige?” (whereto). If we answer Karwar, then questions would follow without any brownies. We answered adequately “Shimoga” and passed them with an approval. I was very careful and cautiously removing the cleats in every possible encountering of vehicle and people. I found them to be annoying on this day than of any use. At lunch point I was surprised to see Karun and Pancham. As seen on Strava, they are mean machines. For a minute I thought we rode too very fast (exaggeration 😀 ). We then came to know that Karun had bad fall and followed by Vishnu Bhat and also Vidya. This was convincing to me since all of them ride with cleats. It reminded me the pain that I had experienced. Well glad that none of them had anything that was closest to mine.
Post lunch till Shimoga, my ride was almost solo. This was a familiar route for me. In fact from this point till the last point it was like home turf. Some onlooker this time offered me cucumber and I could not resist. Well there are few advantages to cycling over driving. You are well received everywhere. Outskirts of Bhadaravati is a beautiful stretch for photographing and I seized this opportunity. Took help from onlooker and got this image. It was a great relief to reach the hotel without being swept. Everyone was surprised to see me completing the ride and they congratulated!
Chethan does a diligent recce. With third TOK he had mastered this art. At Shimoga he had picked Akash Inn, a cozy and nice place away from the usual Shimoga traffic. We had nice shower and were eager to have good snacks and energize. Already came the announcement that Gowrisha had kindly agreed to help us with few asanas that would help us stretch. In about half an hour we had almost recovered. A nice dinner was offered at the hotel Akash Inn. Everyone was sharing their experience of riding that day. It went well with the dessert and kicked up for the next morning. This day’s ride was very satisfying to me personally for having covered longest distance ever on the saddle in recent times. Went into deep sleep after reassuring me for a great second day.
Next day morning began with same routine but with a new hope. We knew that after some distance we will have shades. Soon we were on the highway with every eyeball on us. There was no effect of sun as the colder weather had won over it. We started bit slower and in about twenty minutes we were reeling into the speed trap. Tej Tejaswi was in all enthusiasm to start early as his hometown was on the way. He wanted to start at 6:00 am instead of 6:30 am. He had had his bicycle ahead of everyone else at the start line as if it would help him any bit to be the first person to reach next destination. Leaping on the advantage of known terrain I wanted to ride as fast as I could since every uphill was complemented by a matching downhill. It was very blissful to ride in Malnad region as the air was pure and there were hardly any traffic. Tracing through the winding roads we reached the breakfast point.
This time I was quick to unlock from the cleats and made a safe landing. Thuppur bus stop marked the breakfast point. The bus stop was cleaned up by the supporting staff and was in best condition to use. Hot idlis and vada with infinite chutney and sambhar was waiting to be finished. Piping tea followed that to ease the idlis to make its way into energy converting chamber (stomach). Tej Tejaswi was in a hurry to finish and head to Sagar as usual. I rested here for sometime and relished the breakfast.
While starting from here, I assured myself of a tender coconut wherever it is. Ride from this point onwards started becoming interesting. I was feeling proud not falling down again. Pineapple and coconut were in my “to eat” list, whichever comes first. There were “Pune Girls” in this ride. They both were determined and were not at all easy riders. I happened to catchup with one of them. She was not familiar with the road and needed help. It was my pleasure to ride with her. She revealed that she does lose directions at times. She mixes up lefts and rights and ends up in some unknown place. It must be exciting for her to ride every time as she would end up in some unplanned terrain and figure out her way back. Is this short time memory loss? Leave the topic to neurologist experts to figure out. If this was a mobile phone, there would be a magnetometer to give directions and after sometime, it would need to be calibrated. Here we can’t do anything. In this ride I also got to know that she was a long distance runner and recovering from the pelvic surgery! You must be crazily determined to make it to TOK.
It was in Sagar city that tender coconut stopped me from riding any further. I let her go past me and assured her that it is one straight road from there. The tender coconut tasted really nice that day. It was in shade and was chilled. The green colour around the shell made it look even more attractive. I didn’t realise that lunch point was nearby. Soon after sometime I reached lunch point. Gave a good break and drank “Limbu Sharbath” to content. At this time, I was really full and could feel the heavy belly.
Next part of the trip was to Sirsi and it was home turf for me. There were two peaks that I was concerned but nothing else. For many years I was yearning to ride up to Sirsi from Bangalore and I was bit closer to it. Major point of attraction of this trip was riding through Sirsi and touching places like Kumbharwada, Ganeshgudi. Well I was reeling through the dreams and suddenly saw Nani and other fixing a bicycle. I was curious to see what they are doing and applied the brakes only to land on to beautiful red coloured Marin bike that hardly had any scratches. More than my falling or injury, I felt bad for the bike on which I fell. Ashok was probably making one of his best rides and felt unhappy. Fortunately there was no damage to it. I felt so relieved. I left the place low. From that point till I crossed Talguppa and turned into Siddapura, I don’t know how many times I unlocked from cleats.
With no further eventualities, I reached Sirsi around 4:30pm. There were two ghat sections that were intimidating. This time cleats helped me as I could not free myself from it, I continued pedalling with no stopping. It ensured that I would not stop. People thought I was riding well because of home turf. Tej Tejaswi gave nice company till Sirsi. Just dumped the bike and rushed to my home with heads held high. Ate more than usual and had a good night sleep.
During this trip the body worked like machine. Never did I awake late and always had more than 8 hours of sleep. This inspite every next day being the exciting day. There were no dreams to falsify and nothing to ponder about. Absolutely felt like childhood where we only had study, play, eat and sleep. Plenty of friends surrounded all through the day doing something in the forest, inventing new games and breaking some rules. Ride on the next day was to reach hornbill nest resort on the banks of Kali river. The Supa dam, controls the water very well and there is water all through the year. We had plans to swim after the ride and few beers. With all the hopes began the new day flagged by Sathish Addanki who was also a kind supporter and sponsor of TOKs. He also rode London Edinburgh London ride and is an undisputed star of the gang.
This was the only time where we were welcomed with a downhill at the flag-off. There was absolutely no need to pedal for many kilometers. However the speed was restricted by the cold morning. The sun was very shy to make anyway through the trees. He was busy only around the paddy fields making them look like mines of gold. The air was filled with some sort of aroma only to be disturbed by occasional smells of dosa. They reminded me of jaggery and butter that we used to dump the dosas during our school days. First timers would be puzzled looking at the insane amount of jaggery in our plates – it would be as if we are eating jaggery with dosa.
Couple of years ago, I had rode through this route to Yellapur on my bicycle. I had struggled to ride from Bedthi river till Yellapur. This time with the gang I was feeling better and wanted to settle with the previous experience. New construction around the river was a worrisome as it had gulped the beauty of the place. This was a perfect photo opportunity place and some did took good photos.
Setting the scores with the uphill I made good progress through it and stopped flawlessly at the breakfast point. Hot idlis, vada and chutney were welcoming us. Some didn’t like the same breakfast for third consecutive day. For me chutney was the highlight and for Madhu off the menu item “kawala”. There was a teasing slope to climb before reaching Yellapur. Sathish asked a tough question – “Where is the good hotel in Yellapur for coffee/tea”. For many visitors to this part of the world, we only drink “Kashaya – milk with some spices powdered” and “tea”. Coffee is a distant thing and we would have some Nescafe, at best bought recently. Even the hotels use the same thing. Filter kapi stops somewhere near Shimoga and it could never score past that. Sambhram hotel was the solution offered to Sathish and gave almost precise direction. We all sipped piping tea before being lost in the beauty of the tiger reserve. We made groups of cyclists and I was with Gowrish, Prasad and Tej Tejaswi. Till we reached the Haliyal turning point we were in a file.
It was a very good ride and something to cherish. When we made the left turn towards Bhagavathi, we felt something has started swallowing us. Since we were in a group we didn’t deter and continued. We were mellowed by the forest and the birds were celebrating our entry. Cyclists don’t make noise and no pollution and that must have been their talk. We were strictly told not to ride alone in this stretch due the wilderness of the forest. In fact for a ferocious animal such as tiger, group would not matter. However herds of bisons and elephants might take chance. Every langur sitting on the road guaranteed that we were not in danger. This was the learning of watching hours of national geographic or discovery programs where time and again it was shown that monkeys alarm onset of big cats. As planned after about 20 kms of ride we gave break and ate few energisers like “On The Run“. We had all the six variants of it with us to energise when in need. In few minutes we were greeted by the gang of bullets. They had a lead rider and rest were following. We heard “watch out” from the leading rider and it was passed to the last rider. Some sort of appreciation here for them for this discipline. Next we met them at the lunch point at Bhagavathi.
Some of us had head bath under the bore well pump next to the lunch point and some gave clean wash to their face. The water from it was declared cold and rejuvenating. We had nice lunch here packed from Yellapur which was still hot. We ate to the content and rested for few minutes before scaling the daunting uphills. Bharath and Soma had teamed since beginning of the ride and now they had become inseparable pals. Under compulsory grouping, they pronounced the obvious – to ride together. Vidya and Phaneesh took few riders along with with them and I felt sorry for them. Both Phaneesh and Vidya seemed angry with their bikes and were ripping it. It had become a customary that we would see them at the start point and end point. A rare exception was when they felt like seeing others we would get a glimpse of their ride. We were very cautious from this point till the end as we would spend most of the time in the tiger reserve and we didn’t want to disturb the forest. Next stop was Kulgi and then some serious climbs till the last point. We started as a group again and ensured that we did a steady cycling. The climbs were really hitting us harder and at every climb we felt it was the last and largest climb only to be greeted by yet another one. At one point Tej Tejaswi announced that this is last and largest climb. I put all my reserve energy and climbed to that point. I soon realised that there are two more climbs and we can manage easily. We paused for a while and took some photos to celebrate. From then the next halt was last point and we did that without a stop. It was tough to keep up with the gang and I just relished my remaining ride.
Checked into the Hornbill Nest resort and had a long shower before rest of the gang arrived. Vishnu and me had some nice tea and Khanda Bhajji. We repeated the order before heading for a cool walk to the water rafting point. There were tree houses and we had some nice glimpse of the beauty of the river Kali, that was wasting no time to rush ahead. We could spot some oriental pied hornbills. We were so engulfed in the post-ride discussions, we didn’t bother to worry about anything else. Nani had a bad fall and we talked about many things. It was Deepika’s birthday and wedding anniversary of Ram and Krithika. So we had beers and cakes for that night. Dinner was served and we finished that quickly. We shared some lighter moment before rolling into deep sleep.
In our talks, the next day ride seemed easy peasy. 93 kms didn’t seem tough. Experienced riders read the cue cards and said this is going to be the toughest. Well nothing seem to be worrying today as we all seemed very confident. I borrowed some from them and went into sleep. In no time I was in deep sleep.
Chethan was promptly reaching every room in the morning to wake up people. We have always remained punctual and most of us were. This time he made an offer that our bicycles will be taken by the bus and tempo to the main road. This itself was a big thing for us. The mud road till that point might become root cause of some of the punctures. The flag off for this day was interesting one. The “girls from Pune” were given the flags to do the honors. Well some felt this as conspiracy to delay the start of their ride so that they come last.
In my opinion this was the tough start as we were greeted with one of the tough climbs. Very soon we were sweating. By the time we reached the downhill we knew what we were up against for the day. I don’t remember anything after this but to head down and scale the mountains. Every stone and trees were laughing at us. The white paint on the mile stones were like a teeth shown. Some school children were waiting for their bus and were waving at us in appreciation. The climbs were so steep that everything seemed intimidating. There is a point in this ride where we see backwaters of Supa dam on the right hand side. This was a breathtaking view but on a climb. I have promised myself to go there on a motored vehicle and photograph it some day. We went past Joida to reach breakfast point. It was only 20.6 kms from the start point and we had done significant climb. It was like riding sine wave, except that there were no troughs!
Oh yes! Sathish was upset that last day was also Idli Vada. Somewhere in the trip he said after going to Bangalore, even MTR idli I will not touch. Thank god it was the last day and we were finishing them. There were many jokes cracked here and we had good fun time. Slowly everyone left the place and started going towards Kadra-Karwar. Next stop was tea point and it has to be Kumbharwada.
This was the place where I first learnt cycling! Some portion of my schooling happened here. My family had very good time in this place during 1982-87. My father was posted here to engineer a dam to river Kaneri. We had lived in the quarters and I knew the place very well. I had imagined the house to be rustic and some pieces of it would remain there for memory. I was surprised to see some family living there. With there permission I took some photos of that place and left to see my friends house. That was also intact and took a photo over there as well. Then headed to Kamat’s hotel for a tea. I was emotional while riding through the place. I was peeping into every shop there rumbling through the memory lanes. The place had almost same looks as it was before but with new goods. None of the faces were familiar except the shops. It was not difficult to locate the Kamat Hotel. I was in for a surprise here. An old friend of mine, Premanand was standing there and he recognised me. We met after almost 31 years! Emotions flowed and we exchanged numbers. From there I went to my primary school for photos and headed straight to Anashi. Riding through this place was undoubtedly best thing for me in this ride and meeting childhood friend was icing on the cake.
There were few steep climbs before Anashi and I was loving every bit of it. Climbs, although were daunting, they teach you well. You feel humbled after every such climbs. If you feel great at the peak of a climb, you were greeted with another one bigger than the previous one. You develop some sort of understanding about bicycling and you will start knowing yourself better. It helps you build some sort of personality. It improves when you start listening to yourself more on these rides. I had set my mobile phone aside and in the backpack, only to record the ride. When you have determined to finish something with your heart and mind you will certainly push yourself to achieve that. Certainly, best lessons of life is learned out there in the real life. Lessons that you want to learn the most is out there in the best form.
The slopes of Anashi Ghat only added to the miles. I wanted to avoid over speeding and was stalking a two wheeler. When I saw a small waterfall next to the road, I stopped without falling and nicely parked the cycle off the road. Soon the red Surly and the gang reached the place. While we were busy with photographing and chattering around, we noticed a small van with Pedha and other stuffs. We bought a pack of it and finished in no time. It was only 2 kms to the lunch point and we breezed. All the downhills were over and we were almost at the last stretch of TOK.
Soon after the lunch Madhu’s cycle chain had a problem and link had to replaced. He was having the tools and replacement chain links as well. This was a great lesson that no amount of tool is sufficient! Something like this is not anticipated but saves a big deal. Even if you have them with you, learn to use them. Replacing the chain in that sultry hot condition needed some determination. It took lot of time to fix and I started from that place already. After some distance I saw watermelon field. I slowed down and prepared for landing. Stopped at the very first seller. He was selling them at Rs. 10 each. Whatever space we had in stomach, we stuffed it with watermelon. After this riding became difficult as I was full. I slowed down a lot further and was hoping that finish line would walk towards me. I saw other cyclists going far away and I was slowing down further. We had ice-cream after this point and it was Karun’s idea. Someone told us that his cycle doesn’t go beyond the ice cream points 🙂
When we reached the finish line it was a grand celebration for us. It was all photo opportunities. Throughout the journey Nani and Vishnu had kindly shared the room with me. Their past experiences with TOKs was a great learning. It was fantastic to ride with all these people and something to cherish time to come.
Cadence90 had arranged the whole trip meticulously. His staff were the people who were driving the vehicles. Supreeth was also a major reason for flawless execution. Raghunath had helped on first day. Marin and Kotak Mahindra were main sponsors. A bunch of thanks to them as well. Personally I thank every rider accompanying and making this journey memorable. Well can’t conclude this without thanking Fast&Up who were successful in truly keeping us energised throughout the trip. Satish Patkar silently contributed to the greater success of the rides. He ensured that all our bikes are in best condition possible.
I am greatly motivated and regained my fitness confidence post this ride. Assured myself a gift of TOK4 and many more to come. One item goes off the bucket list of to-dos in this life; making way for few more into it. An improved fitness level will help in enjoying the rides more. Keeping ourselves hydrated during the ride is very important. Never give-up but don’t be adamant. The whole ride is a team event and be at your best. Respect everyone in the ride and belittling is the worse thing you may do.
I am writing this from many days and I am glad I didn’t forget anything. For me this is a testimony for this TOK and many more such rides to come. Longing for every such ride to make life beautiful.
All the photos of the trip are on flickr and they have come out fantastic! Beautiful faces of gritty people add a lot to the scene.