Monday, December 29, 2008

Day 4: The mother of all climbs on TFN08

Today we would head towards Ooty from Sulthan Bathery using the round about way through Gudalur. The day involves at least two major climbs - one at Devarsholai (5% to 7%) and another one being the Ooty climb (7%-8%) itself. Last night's nightmares spilled over even to this morning. Breakfast got delayed (in spite of shifting to Wind Flower. Ethesh, Naveen, Kamesh and me decided to try out local restaurant. We had puttus and baked bananas. Yes, you can bake bananas (if you get the nendra variety from Kerala) and they taste yummy - sweet and sour. One need not worry about how it is cooked because it is boiled with the skin and it is peeled right in front of you.

For some reason I chose this day to ride. After much searching, I found the bike I would be riding - a Firefox Tempest, six gears, front shocks, and V-brakes. The best part of the bike was that it has a bell. It comes in handy in crowded villages that are not used to seeing fast moving cycles ;-) Today we decided to ride as a group - that would be the best bet against the being swept. Since I am riding today, I may not have any images for the rest of the post. Apologies. Those that are posted are cliked by Modi, Nelly, Deepak and others on support cars. Thanks Guys. Finally we started the day around 0900hrs.

The day started off slowly. We were cautions even on the gentle downhills - riding slow and steady, cracking jokes and waving to excied children. We passed through many tea and coffee estates and small villages untill we come to the first climb of the day. It would be approximately 5% and for 7kms. This was supposed to be the pre-cursor for what was to come later in the day. The reward for climbing Devarsholai was the food van would be waiting for us. The climb as really mild. So mild that at Devarsholai we kept asking if the climb was over or still to come. On top of Devarsholai, we were welcomed by courteous Nilgiris crew serving us cold Badam milk. "Excellent!" I told my self. The brunch consisted of nice chapatis, mixed veg subji and set yogurt. I felt fully charged up after that. There were couple of people leaving the tour from Gudalur. This is junction where one road leads to Ooty and one to Bangalore. Ram, Vishal and Ullas would take the Bangalore road. Hence I took a some time to take leave of them.

After Devarsholai, the road goes winding down the hill. Since I had to catch Ethesh and Naveen, I flew through this down hill. I stopped only at couple of places to get the first look at the Blue Mountain Range. I caught up with Ethesh in the next up hill climb. There would be couple of more mild (3%-4%) climbs before we reach Gudalur. I was accompanied by Ashwin for the last few Kms before Gudalur. Ashwin is an enterprising kid studying in 8th grade in the local convent. He inquired about the shocks on my bike and proudly exhibited his. He said, he had to removed the gears on them because it would not work. He took leave of the tour just as we hit the Ooty highway. A Sunday well spent for him.

The start of the ooty climb is vicious. I remembered that I had plain water only. So, stopped at a house to add salt into it. The family was so forthcoming to help us. A kilometer later, I saw the Manipal ambulance waiting for us. We filled Gatorade into our water bottles - to form a potent concoction, ate one banana each and owed to stop only at the 10Km mark (he he he... what were we thinking?) For the first few kilometers, I was scared about the heavy traffic that was mentioned in the rider's docket. However, the traffic was not much... They were surprisingly well mannered too... (barring a couple of morons any way). We Put our heads down and marched ahead. We rode past villages, churches and shops before we felt totally alone. 30Kms of hard climb was ahead of us. I later understood from Rajesh that the gradient never dropped below 4%. This is still acceptable considering that the other way to Ooty is through Masinagudi (Shigur ghats) involving up to 12% gradients - even if it were for just 14 Kms. (It will be fun to get down the route tomorrow).

After 5 Kms up the climb, we lose touch with any civilization. On either side of the road there are nice tall Eucalyptus trees. I was on the road with hill on one side, valley on the other side. Eucalyptus trees on both sides seemed to be of the same height. Ethesh was ahead of me. It is amazing how tall these trees are... they grow absolutely straight. The bark on them seem to curl up counter-clockwise. The reason I worked out in mind was that it had to do with movement of Sun from Uttarayana and Dakshinayana. When you are on a bicycle, and going so slow - up hill, you tend to think observe and think about a lot of stuff... On a car you can stop only when there is a shoulder... On a cycle, you are always on the shoulder watching everything ;-)

There is a signage on the road, an enlarged "Z". This is the most dreaded sign. This means that there are two back-to-back hairpin bends coming your way. If you see this when you are in the last ring, you better get off the saddle to get some momentum going. While we are at the road signages, the speed limit for the vehicles going up the gradient is 30. That's seemed so irrelevant. Ethesh and me, people who owed to stop only after 10Kms, were waiting for the other to call for a stop to take in some fluids... or a leak break... or to eat the honey-cake. We passed Shankar a couple of times who had some hard time due to shoulder discomfort. Ooty road is being repaired... nothing is wrong with the road, but it was the embankments along the road that were being reinforced. The up hill lane was closed at many points for this work which caused many anxious moments for me. [last but one] The only way was up up and up. I changed to my 1st gear (last ring) some time between 10th and 12th Km of the climb. I was under the impression that there would be a support car at the 40Km to go mark... did not find one. After some more Eucalyptus (Nilgiri trees), I spotted the Black Santro of Amit. They were watching the green forest from the Madhumalai Forest View point. We replenished our Gatorade bottles and marched ahead... When I saw a shop board that said Naduvattam, I was ecstatic. I remembered that the rider docket mentioned that it was the end of the 8% climbs... the toughest part of the climb was behind us. The Manipal ambulance was once again there to hand out Gatorade and water.

From then on the climb relaxed a bit. It was still about 4%... However, I had some chance to go back to the second gear. I will tell you why it is important to be in 2nd gear. It will give you some hope that if it gets worse and you are about to hit the wall, you can change to one lower gear. If you are already in the first gear (the biggest ring in the rear), then there is no way to escape. You are looking at the wall... an you will hit it. Luckily, today I was not in such a situation. When ever I felt totally down I remembered the two bus full beautiful girls from Bangalore that went past us. Two of them even wished us luck. "Have to catch them at Ooty!" I kept remembering.

After some time, the gentle gradients turned into a steep downhill. I went to 2nd, 3rd and the 4th gear. This sudden difference in tension was flagged by some muscle behind the knee... Ouch!! It was also an alarm that I had not taken any fluids for the last half hour... I stopped to stretch a bit and more Gatorade. That was when Ethesh passed me egging me on to continue. Both of us did not know at that time, that the road ahead was winding up and down - mostly down. With 29 Kms to go, we tailed one another on all the slopes until we reached the last support car - 22Kms to go. I stopped for a Gatorade refill. But Ethesh did not stop. That's when I lost him. Only 22 more to go, filled with fluids I started pedaling hard - hoping to catch Ethesh again. The road was being less and less harsh on us. Downhills got lengthier and up hills shorter and milder. For once the Kms stoned seemed to be fair. We were happy to see some "Drive Slowly" boards which clearly mean that road went down. The kilometer stones kept passing by with ease. At the 8Km to go point, I was inspired by the encouraging words of Dikki sir. Thank You. Further more the gradients did not matter. I just kept peddling asking for directions to Charing Cross. At Charing Cross, Dikkie was still asking for directions to the Youth Hostel. There are three such hostels in Ooty. After pedaling around for some more time, we finally ended our ride at YHAI, that was next to the cemetery near the bus-stand. All the riders thoroughly enjoyed the ride in spite of aching buttocks. Its that thing with us cyclist - the harder it gets, the happier we are.

After a hot water bath, cozy campfire, spicy dinner (not ready to make), singing and dancing we all called it a day. Tomorrow is a rest day. May God bless us.


Subra ....[ V . Subramanian ] said...

So you have entered in to the real fun part by cycling yourself . Wish you all a joyful and easy ride back on the sixth day . Thanks for sharing friend .

Anonymous said...

the nendrapazam of kerala is unique in the whole world. It can be boiled, fried, and even fed to babies as old as3 months. Thats what we keralites do, and thats why we are so strong and we are ruling India ! ha ha ha

so also the tapioca and mathi (sardine) (fish), and the ambiguous kanchi"