Mar 25, 2012

'Don't worry' [84/365]

Although I am in my element as a writer, I do enjoy the occasional outdoor sport.

Among the few activities that I enjoy, cycling is definitely my favorite.
I remember my first bike was a BMX and the wonderful freedom it gave me. To a bunch of intrepid six year olds, cycling to another block was always exciting. We felt like explorers!

After three stints with the Tour of Nilgiris and couple of minor rides over the past couple of years, I had the most amazing cycle rides the past weekend.

Two biking buddies and I decided it was time we put our bodies through a grueling climb.
Our destination: Kolli Malai in Namakkal. 250 kms away from Bangalore.
So what's special about Kolli Malai?
Besides the rumor that the hills are famous for black magic practitioners, it has about 70 hair-pin bends, with an average gradient of 8% and this means you'll be scaling about 1400 meters above sea-level, all in just 20 kms.

Cycling all the way there was out of the question so we decided we would drive down to Namakkal and ride the next day. Taking advantage of the extra day off on the 23rd, we packed our cycles into specially designed car-racks.

Getting away from the depressing weather in Bangalore was some relief. The highways are a dream to drive on, but the sooner you start the better you'd be when you reach. We took about 5 hours to reach, squeezing in a quick breakfast and a power lunch. Namakkal is a small town stuck in time, surrounded by villages that are famous for poultry and tapioca,
there is something very rustic about this place.
But the ride was going to be anything but a walk in the park. We were sufficiently 'warned' that Kolli Malai, as it is known locally, is worth every bit of the stamina you can muster. 'Ooty is a plateau', our kind host declared.
The statistics had already given me nightmares and now this.
'Gee thanks! I could've gone on without having to hear that' I thought to myself.




Find more Bike Ride in Namagiripettai

The weather was so good that we just had to sleep outside. Starting early was crucial since we had to travel quite a bit to reach the base of the hill. A bunch of dudes cycling through villages in spandex and 'geared cycles' can be quite the crowd puller. We had curious kids and grown-ups running and pointing to us when we passed.
Infact, we became such instant celebrities that the village folks remembered us when we rode back 12 hours later.

Reaching the 'check-post' at the foot of the hills about 2 hours after we started, we made good time. We agreed to regroup every 10 hair pin bends uphill. This is way easier than we ever thought. 30 minutes after what I assumed was the base, we reached the second hairpin bend. WTF! We had 68 more to go and my knees were groaning under all the effort.
"Dont worry", my pedaled partners told me. They insisted I change strategy and aim more realistically. Frequent but short breaks every couple of bends is what I figured would help me. When cycling, I've found that numbers have a strange effect on me. I am easily overwhelmed by the vast distance and steep inclines ahead of me. Forgetting to remember the total distance and not looking at the climb on the other hand soothes me. It worked. I took plenty of breaks, kept myself well hydrated, learned the fine art of asking for water from curious passer-by's, drank my own sweat to recover all that salts and reached the summit seven hours after we started from home. While I am not sure if we can claim to be the first cyclists who scaled the Kolli, I
can say pedaling up is only half the excitement. The adventure was just beginning.
As I reached the summit, I realized my compatriots on pedal, were not at the rendezvous point. Perhaps they just left to explore.

Asking locals if they had seen two flashy bikers in foreign bikes is difficult when you don't know the local language and they don't know what the heck you are talking. After plenty of gesturing, many of the locals confirmed that they had seen the spandex duo come and go back down.
I wondered how we could cross paths but still not run into each other, since there was only one way up and down the hill. And if this was not exasperating, our phones were out of charge and I didn't have any money with me. Great!

I decided to ride down and try and trace my way back to the house we were staying. Again, easier planned than executed. Summit to base, I took about 45 minutes with a five minute break to cool the over heated brake pads.
Still no sign of them. I wasn't sure how much of the route back I remembered but decided to keep riding back.
Soon, it became apparent that I didn't have clue of the name of the village we stayed in, nor the name of the host and I was positively lost.
However, through this ordeal I never panicked. Restless, maybe. But I rested my faith in Jesus, and devised a plan B - I figured I'd stop and charge my cellphone so that I can try and reach my partners in case they were accessible. And if nothing works, I'd catch a taxi back home to Bangalore. This is when I met one of most selfless stranger ever.
Passing through a village, I decided to ask for help with a local truck driver who was sitting outside his home. He reeked of cheap booze which put me on guard immediately. I found it difficult to to trust him every time he'd reassure me.
He helped me charge my phone, bought me a soft drink even when I told him that I don't have any money to repay him and reassured me that I will be alright. 'Don't Worry' He'd repeat. Somehow I still thought this person didn't know the gravity of how lost I was, but decided to be patient with him. As if by sheer luck, my biking partners passed us just as I was about to try their numbers for the 16th time. I called out to them but when they didn't hear me, all the villagers started calling out to them in unison. The relief!
I was lost but I've got my way back. Apparently, my partners were looking for me along the way too.

I learned some valuable lessons that day.
Besides the obvious logistics lessons, I also learned that we are quick to judge people in a lower strata of society than us. That villager that day was exceptionally kind and generous. Unlike conniving city dwellers, he was not bothered about the 'cost' of caring for a stranger in trouble. He was after all not the first person I approached for help that day, but certainly the only person who was willing to help. In every unforeseen way possible.  
As I think back, I can see how God guided me and how I stopped at just the right spot to be able see my partners when they cycled past. Anywhere else and I would've missed them that night.

What started out as a cycle ride to test the limits of physical endurance became a wonderful experience that I'll cherish for a very long time.

This post is an Official entry for Mahindra XUV's Incredible Stories  hosted by IndiBlogger.

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