Apologies to those who are following the trip to Himalayas. This is a small detour since, this post needs to be posted before it becomes irrlevant
This is "our" tour. The French, the Ausies and the Italians may have their famed, star studded, block buster, multi-week cycling tours - but at the end of the day, they are all races... and in a race there is only one "winner". And often this all-or-nothing stakes is what leads to win-by-any-means-possible attitude that has tarnished the image of the sport. But here at the Tour of Nilgiris (affectionately, TFN) its just celebration of cycling. Cycling for just cycling sake - needless to say, that every body is a winner here. If cycling were a religion, we are its missionaries.
What started out as a passing remark in the "Ride Plans" section of bikeszone forum has really taken a very beautiful shape. Any body who has ridden among mountains understands the serenity and the overwhelming feeling of oneness - the bike, the mountain and you. If you just go by the laws of physics, both the mountain and the bike are forces acting against you trying to prevent you ascending. But in reality every climb, every corner spurs you on to try that much harder - you feel stronger. It must be the pristine air in the mountains - you feel that much lighter. One never feels that mountain is against you. The mountain rewards you every now and then by revealing all its glory... The wind takes away all the the weariness from both body and mind. If you are luck, there will be a tender-coconut seller nearby - just two steps away from heaven.
There are two fames destination of cyclists when they crave for that feeling of oneness. Coorg (Madikeri, Western Ghats) and Ooty(the Nilgiris, Eastern Ghats). Small groups of biking enthusiasts often criss-crossed the two destinations one at a time. We have exchanged notes and photos - admiring what we have missed, often re-living the ride over and over again in picture albums. The TFN combines two of the best routes into one... The weather is just perfect. It has stopped raining (fingers crossed, touch wood, light incense sticks, asTottara archane... and all other offerings promised). Sun rises a little late. Early morning mist gives most surreal riding experiences. (is it just me, or does every body love the mist?). Yes it is cold. So what!!
This will be a week to remember for long time to come.
Each of the seven days offer challenges of one or the other kind. After a fast day on the saddle, Day 1 (25th Dec, 2008) has a surprise ending. Climbers in the group will be delighted at the mountain top finish. May the blessings of Goddess Chamundi be up on all of us. The second day exhibits excellent road conditions all the way up to Kushalanagara. But, there is one catch. The road has no trees. They were all cut for widening, and the new ones planted are yet to grow a canopy. So, we better get past this stretch before the sun gets to us. However, there is a respite. All along the road one can find tender-coconut vendors where all of us can re-fuel until satisfaction. 20 Kms per tender coconut is a decent mileage. The final push comes just before the end. Mercera is a tricky crater town. To reach it (and to get out of it) one has to climb up the mountain walls and descend to the "down town".
Day 3 is designed to get some strength back into your legs. Most of the pleasure of going downhill is negated by some bad roads. I have not been to Sultan Bathery, but I hear that it is a very beautiful town with lot of places to visit. I am sure there will some century old temples... more on wikipedia. Finally, we may have decent place for camp-fire. Relax and completely forget about the next days climb. Day 4 is the day of reckoning. We enter the Nilgiris range. After dilly dallying for the first hour or so, we will face 30 kms of climbing - steep and steeper. The rewards are equally fascinating. Once the major climb is behind us, it is just casual ride until Ooty.
Day 5 is a worthy rest day. It only gets easier from here. Day 6 we descend from the clouds into the plains below. Again, much of the effort will be in avoiding pot-holes and crashes compared to pedalling. As we near Mysore, traffic will also start to matter. I have observed that people do give some respect if they see people on cycles with lot of protection gear. Irrespective of that, we must be really careful. The last day, Day 7 (31st Dec, 2008) we ride the mild uphill from Mysore to Bangalore. By this time, all the riders would already be veteran climbers and it will feel as easy as the proverbial stroll in the park. There is also the excitement of the home-coming. All-in-all 919 Kms on the saddle is no mean accomplishment.
Cycling by its very nature is self filtering sport. There is not space for arm chair strategists, and certainly not for non-players. In that respect, it is very unique sport. (Perhaps running is another one... not surprising that many cyclists are avid runners too). "Love for Nature" is another trait that every cyclist exhibits. Being eco-conscious is one of the commandments of our religion ;-) This bunch of 40+ people is no different. Each one has trained hard, and harder, and harder to be ready for the tour. 130 Kms a day, against a gradient is not the usual definition of fun. But we cyclists are a different tribe altogether and anxiously looking forward to it.
This bunch definitely has variety. We have professional riders, a professional coach, fitness experts, doctors, engineers, teachers, photographers, scientists... Guess what, we can even arrange a "Career day" shows in the schools on the way. Apart from their professional affiliations, I am sure we will have a very good mix of singers, musicians or even a budding ventriloquist to keep the camp-fires interesting.
A word about the organizers:
I am amazed at the professionalism displayed by the organizers. Till now, all the multi-day cycling tours that I have heard have been mostly ad-hoc. The night halt location is usually determined by how far (or near) the legs can push. I have noted that as lot of thinking, re-thinking goes on quality time (which could otherwise spent oogling the Nilgiri range) is lost on the tour. When something goes wrong, the dreaded "I-told-you-so" reactions douse the spirits. TFN is totally different. The planners near professional (with lot of riding experience). The tour is so meticulously planned that they surely have a Plan B,C or D already in place if (heavens forbid) something does goes wrong.
Technology and the tour:
Last year during the same time, there were at least three tours that were happening. We were in Coorg. Gautaman and gang were in Mullayyanagiri - Kemmanugundi range. And Sree was doing his cross country ride. We were in touch with one another by SMS. After I came back, I was most happy to track Sree all the way up to Ahmedabad on his blog. This was the first live-blogging that I had seen.
Since then, the technology has moved on. Now I hear that people can get in touch - near real time - using twitter. Images can be uploaded to flikr/picasa right from the camera. There are youtube videos. For those of people who get bored reading lengthy report, there are web-casts. I dont know how much of all these will be used on this tour - but the possibilities are just immense.
Cyclists as a tribe have to grow. That is the only way forward... Today, the youth of our country chooses to ride a bicycle only when he can not get a mo-bike. We are determined to take the cycle a couple of notches higher in the "cool" scale so that young people are drawn towards it. Hence small rides are planned in each of the stop towns to spread the message of cycling. No Placards, No banners... just plain old spread the word by action. Hopefully some kids will get that cycling is more "cool" than speeding on motor-cycles.
Why am I not riding:
Could not make up my mind (to buy a good bike + the ride) before the slots got full... Hopefully, I will be saying "I Blog... live!!" and a little bit of local riding. [Is any body carrying spare cycles?]