“2 days | 150 km | 36 cyclists | Tranquil Trail | UNLIMITED FUN” – the caption was enough to enthuse me to rent a bicycle and get on the narrow roads of Western Ghats. I spread the word among the cycle enthusiasts I knew and four of us made the bookings for a weekend cycling expedition to Bhagamandala, Virajpet and Bylakuppe. Except for Bylakuppe which falls in Mysore district, all other places lie in Kodagu (formerly Coorg) district of Karnataka.
The trip was planned for the last weekend of June ’13, a time when a majority of 3rd year engineering undergraduates (including me) were lazing in some big corporate office of Bangalore. The cycle trip in the hills would be the perfect setting to fend off the cobwebs of boredom and energize us. On a Friday night we set off from Bangalore in a chartered bus. Early next morning we reached our home stay in Bhagamandala. The house appeared to be a lone habitat in thick forest area. Trees and shrubs surrounded the house and were spread out deeply in all directions.
We started for Talacauvery from the home stay at 8 am. Talacauvery (known for being the source of river Cauvery) was 42 km from our home stay. One after another cyclists took to the state highway. The onlookers stared at us amazed at the sheer number of people coming out of the patchy forest road. A support vehicle took the lead and another one followed from behind, sweeping the tail-enders. Since it was a rural area, small shops and huts used to pass by frequently. It was a two lane road and only few vehicles plied on it.
For this bike trip, the cycles were geared ones. Since it was a hilly terrain, the track was laced with uphill and downhill slopes. With an increasing gradient we used to gear down quickly with combinations 1-1 to 1-4 on the cycle and as soon as we reached the top of the slope the gear had to be quickly increased to 2-6, 2-7 up to a maximum of 3-7. Changing gears at the correct moment ensures consistency in speed and takes less human effort. It’s practically impossible to ride uphill at 3-7. So the wrong gear combination takes up more energy. It only takes a couple of kilometres of cycling to get the gist of using gears.
A downhill slope would always bring respite, but one had to keep the speed within limits to avoid going off track. The first 10 – 15 kms of the ride was more of warm-up. We still had 30 more kms to go before we reached the base of Talacauvery. The most difficult part of the ride used to be the small uphill climbs. Cycling uphill becomes challenging in two ways, first the effort required to pull the cycle and one’s own body weight makes it difficult and second, at 1-1 gear combination the speed of the cycle drops to less than 3km/hr. So in a way a walking person would have overtaken us while cycling uphill. The ‘effort put’ over ‘distance covered’ ratio becomes very high. For longer slopes the body stops listening to you; it’s the combined test of stamina and the extent to which you can push your body to not give up. The joy of climbing up the entire range of slopes is unmatched. You realize what your body is capable of doing.
After 3 hours of cycling we reached the base of Talacauvery. The top of the hill is 8 kms from the base and this one was the most treacherous part of the cycle trip. By the time we reached the top, we were so tired that climbing a couple of temple steps (on top of the hill) seemed daunting. We rested for a while. Many other riders had joined us by then. We were served packed lunch arranged by the organizers. The body was tired to the extent that we could barely stand and eat. After eating a light lunch we went inside the bus which was already parked nearby. After half an hour of sleep we had to move again.
We started the ride towards Bhagamandala at about 3:30 pm. Six of our fellow cyclists succumbed and decided to get on the bus for the remainder of the journey. Gatorade bottles and chocolate bars were really coming in handy for us. Though we were advised to bring padded shorts, but had ignored the advice and thus had to bear the consequences. Our bums had started to hurt so badly that we tried to stand on the paddles for as long as we could while cycling in order to give ‘them’ rest. More than the stamina and thigh muscles the bums were bothering us.
I reached the home stay at about 6:30 pm. It was starting to get dark and still more than half the group hadn’t returned. The sweep vehicle came in at 7:30 pm and all the cyclists were home safe and sound. We had covered 102 km on a cycle on day 1 of the trip. Dinner was served at 9 after a small bonfire. All of us were sent to sleep at 10:30 pm as we had to start early for next day’s excursion.
On paper, day 2 trail looked more challenging with higher gradients of uphill and downhill climb. But we realized it was pretty much the same. We were to go from Bhagamandala to Bylakuppe, the final destination being the Tibetan Monastery (Golden Temple). It was 62 km from the origin of our journey. During the ride, more than anything else my bums kept cursing me for not buying those padded shorts. Day 2 experience was pretty much the same as the previous day. Similar Western Ghats terrain, similar gradients; though we were expecting the roads to be a little better off. It took 4 hours to reach the Monastery.
During the course of our 2 day biking trip, we had covered 165 km in 30 hours. This amount of cycling requires preparation. Cycling 10km everyday to office doesn’t make you fit for the trip. We had started to hit the gym 2 weeks prior to the event weekend. Stamina is of prime importance, if you don’t want to be left behind and rescued by the support vehicle. We were carrying lot of chocolate bars and energy drink bottles. All this is necessary. I would even suggest bringing along cycling gloves and elbow & knee guards. Helmets were provided by the organizers. In all, the trip is worth the experience. There is no entertainment element and it’s not even meant to be. 100 km cycling in a single day is no joke but it comes with its own sense of achievement. The joy in seeing scenic beauty, watching the sun rise and set, watching the clouds make cool formations is one thing and experiencing your body succeed through this endurance test another. In our small group of 4 people, 3 of us had run the Delhi Half Marathon and it was a unanimous say that this trip was more challenging than the former.
The trip was organized by Cycling and More (CAM).
Blog post originally written for www.trekosphere.wordpress.com
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